In the past, research has shown that consumers have been skeptical of brands when they take a stand on social issues. At the same time, 63% of consumers around the world buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values, and most want businesses to do more to address societal issues, according to the latest annual Trust Barometer [pdf] from Edelman.
Across 27 countries surveyed, 53% of respondents said that business in general is not doing enough to address climate change, versus just 8% who said that business is overstepping on this issue. Similar gaps were seen in perceptions of business’ response to addressing other issues including economic inequality (50% and 8%, respectively), energy shortages (50% and 8%), healthcare access (47% and 7%), trustworthy information (45% and 9%), and workforce reskilling (44% and 9%).
Indeed, a strong majority of respondents expect CEOs to take public stands on a series of issues, from treatment of employees (89%) to climate change (82%), discrimination (80%), wealth gap (77%) and immigration (72%). That treatment of employees sits at the top of this list further cements the importance of this issue to consumers; previous research has likewise found this to be the most important brand activism attribute for consumers and the top issue that they feel CEOs should speak out about.
But despite this apparent desire for business to do more (separately, business emerges as the most trusted – and only trusted – institution), respondents recognize that this is fraught with risk. Across 28 countries, majorities of respondents in only 9 believe that business can avoid being political when addressing contentious societal issues. In the US, only 48% of respondents think business can avoid being politicized.
Among those respondents who believe that it is possible for a business to address societal issues without being seen as politicized, the leading ways to avoid being seen as politically motivated when taking a stand are to be a trustworthy information source and to base actions on science.
Finally, about two-thirds (68%) globally – and 63% in the US – feel that brands celebrating what brings people together and emphasizing common interests would be important to strengthening the social fabric. CEOs are also encouraged to pull advertising money from platforms that spread misinformation, with 71% of respondents believing they should do so.
For more, check out the study here.
About the Data: The results are based on a November 2022 survey of more than 32,000 respondents across 28 countries.