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One-third of Americans have stopped using a brand as a direct result of a scandal, according to new research from YouGov [download page]. Politics emerges as the top offender, with 51% of brand boycotters saying they’ve stopped using a brand due to its support for a politician, party, or movement that the boycotter did not support.

That puts brands in a bind, as they’re increasingly being asked to step into the fray and take positions on societal issues. At the same time, people generally disapprove of brands talking about politics on social media, and there are mixed feelings about the extent to which companies should weigh in on hot-button issues. Obviously, there are risks to doing so…

Concerns with company products can also lead to boycotts: among those who reported having stopped using a brand, more than 4 in 10 said it was due to the product having a negative impact on consumers’ health (44%). And 42% said it was because of harm to the environment. CSR issues are particularly important to youth, though two-thirds of US consumers (aged 15 and older) overall agree that brands must be environmentally responsible.

Meanwhile, one-quarter of brand boycotters said that a data breach was the reason for stopping using a brand. (Factoring in the fact that 33% have boycotted a brand, that means that roughly 1 in 8 Americans have boycotted a brand due to a data breach.)

Data breaches are increasingly common these days (see: Equifax), and these results demonstrate that beyond the negative impact on corporate reputation, breaches also can damage customer loyalty.

The YouGov study finds that two-thirds of those who have boycotted a brand have not returned to it, while 1 in 5 have returned to it but don’t use it as much as before. Previous research suggests that in the event of a breach, customers want timely information and guarantees to cover current losses and prevent future ones.

For its part, YouGov recommends:

  • Understanding who typically boycotts a brand (in the case of recalls, it’s working men who live with a spouse or partner);
  • Prioritizing and displaying the brand’s ethics and response; and
  • Investing in a word-of-mouth strategy.

The full report is available for download here.

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