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How Gartner Produced Groundbreaking Research on Consumer Purchases and Corporate Social Justice Activities: Social Justice and Marketing Part 2

By Augie Ray | May 18, 2022 | 2 Comments

In part 1 of this series, we explored how marketers feel increasing demands from consumers, leaders and other stakeholders to bring social justice topics into their marketing communications. We also discussed how many studies conducted on this topic are flawed and may exaggerate the need for action. So, what did Gartner do differently?

In 2021, we conducted studies of U.S. consumers that we hoped would provide our marketing and communications clients with original and distinctive insights. We conducted this research as part of Gartner’s Fellows program, which is designed to identify and sponsor high-impact thought leadership that keeps Gartner on the cutting edge of research and advisory insights.

To avoid the issues discussed in the prior post (social desirability biases and the impact of topic polarity), we conducted our research in a way unlike other research on consumer preference and corporate social justice:

We first asked consumers to name brands they had purchased or had stopped purchasing from because of a stand on a social issue. Our approach required consumers to identify brands where they knowingly changed their purchase habits due to brands’ social justice activities. By focusing on past purchase decisions, we sought to minimize social desirability bias and were able to identify two nonexclusive groups of consumers: “buycotters,” who purchased brands because they took a stand on political or social issues, and boycotters, who stopped buying from a brand over their social or political stands.

We then asked buycotters and boycotters what brand communications and activities drove their change in purchase habits. Rather than focus on issues, we sought to understand the stands that brands took that increased or decreased purchases. Since these issues are so polarizing, we provided a balanced series of answers that permitted consumers on either side of these contentious issues to pick a positive answer aligned with their values and choices (see below).

A list of answers Gartner used to study both sides of issues, such as "An anti-racist stance that denounces discrimination against people of color" and "A stance that focusing on specific racial or ethnic groups at the expense of others is unfair or harmful"
We believe our research is unique in its approach and uncovered more accurate and actionable answers that other research on corporate social justice has not. So, what did our study find?

  • We found that just over one in four US consumers had either buycotted or boycotted a brand for reasons of corporate social justice. Overall, 28% had either made buycott purchases to support a brand or stopped purchasing from a brand over its social or political activities. A significant share reported both buycott and boycott decisions.
  • Conversely, 72% of respondents had made no changes in purchase decisions as a result of brands’ corporate social justice activities. A significant majority of US consumers in our study did not alter their purchasing over brands’ social and political statements or actions.

If you are a Gartner for Marketers client, you can learn more about social justice research in the report, How Consumer Expectations for Social Justice Create Risks for Brands.

We’ll continue this series tomorrow and share what social and political stands drove the most buycotting and boycotting actions.

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2 Comments

  • Stan Page says:

    For a supposedly unbiased research company, your spectrum definition of “A stance to reduce gun violence” on one end and “A pro-gun stance” is pretty poorly disguised. So, by your definition, pro-gun cannot be anti-violence. Really? Owning and using a gun is the same as supporting serial killers? This is blatant bias, not to mention false, misleading, insulting and bordering on political activism. It calls into question all of your research design and intent. I used to respect Gartner. Now I question anything under that name. Maybe your next spectrum should be “Woke” on one side and “Awake” on the other.

    • Augie Ray says:

      I appreciate the feedback. We took great pains to be as balanced as possible and tested the set of answers with several research experts and with a sample study before deploying.

      I think you may be inflating the implications of the terms used. People seeing pro-life on one side don’t think it means the other side is anti-life. Nor do I think consumers presented with the two gun-rights options failed to understand the opposing stands they represent in a clear and concise way.

      In the end, we did our best and I’m open to your feedback on how we could improve our research. I hope it doesn’t diminish your respect for Gartner–after all, the reason I shared the actual answers we offered was specifically to bring transparency and invite feedback. You can thus evaluate if the data and analysis we conducted were fair and accurate. In the end, after considering your concern, I do not see much risk of this wording biasing the results. Do you? Do you think people who are pro-gun-rights were confused and instead selected the “reduce gun violence” option because they are also anti-violence?