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Corporate Social Justice Has Little to No Net Impact on Consumer Purchases: Social Justice and Marketing Part 3

By Augie Ray | May 19, 2022 | 0 Comments

In the prior blog post in this series, we explored how Gartner sought to overcome flawed research on corporate social justice with its own proprietary study. We started not by asking whether people would or wouldn’t purchase from brands that took a stand on social or political issues. Instead, asked consumers to name brands they had already buycotted or boycotted due to their corporate social stands.

We found very little difference between the percentage of U.S. consumers who said they bought, or “buycotted,” (18.7%) and those that said they stopped buying, or boycotted (19.2%). This data may, at first, seem surprising given the number of studies that have suggested consumers have a strong preference for brands that take action. But because we studied these divisive issues from a balanced perspective, asking about stands on both sides of the issue, it is perhaps not surprising that we’d find equal numbers of buycotters and boycotters.

To find how corporate justice stands drive consumer purchases, we need to examine each stand individually. Our study allows us to compare the number of U.S. consumers who made buycott purchases as a result of a brand’s social or political actions versus the number who stopped buying and boycotted the brand for the same reason. I can’t convey all of the data from this study since we must reserve it for Gartner clients, but I can share the two corporate social justice stands that drove the most net-positive and net-negative purchase behavior:

  • The biggest social justice driver of net-positive purchases was an anti-racist stand that denounces discrimination against people of color. Overall, 6% of US consumers in our study had purchased from brands because of this stand, while 2.3% boycotted for the same reason. Brands taking anti-racist stands enjoyed a four-point net positive impact of buycotters over boycotters.
  • The biggest driver of net-negative purchases was corporate support for former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Overall, 5.6% of US consumers boycotted a brand for supporting Trump, his administration, or the GOP; conversely, 3.5% of respondents purchased from brands due to this support. Overall, brands perceived as supporting Trump and the GOP saw a two-point net decrease in purchasers with more boycotters and buycotters.

The critical finding of our study was that none of these issues drove a very substantial shift in purchasing behavior positively or negatively. Across more than a dozen corporate social stands we studied, all but two had less than a two-point net impact comparing buycotters versus boycotters.

Another finding from our study is perhaps not unexpected: The stands that drove buycotting also drove boycotting. Comparing the word cloud of brands mentioned by buycotters and boycotters, you can see many of the same brands cited in both lists (see below). Clients of Gartner for Marketers can learn more about this research in our report, Boycott or Buycott: How Corporate Social Justice Activities Impact Purchases and Customer Loyalty.

Word cloud of brands mentioned by buycotters and boycotters who changed purchases due to corporate social justice stands
Similar lists of brands mentioned by those who buycotted (or supported a brand with purchases) and boycotted (or stopped purchasing) over social and political stands

Having found that no social justice stands drove a sizable net-positive or net-negative impact on purchase behavior, we next wished to learn what brands do and say that encourage consumers to alter their purchases. We’ll explore how the social justice actions of brands, companies, leaders and employees affected consumer purchases in the final blog in this series post tomorrow.

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