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What Brands, Companies and Leaders Do That Encourage Buycotts and Boycotts: Social Justice and Marketing Part 4

By Augie Ray | May 20, 2022 | 0 Comments

In the prior blog post in this series, we discussed how corporate social justice stands are not significant drivers of net-positive or -negative consumer purchases (buycotts) or boycotts. In this final blog post of this series, we will explore what corporate and brand activity tended to attract consumer attention and alter purchasing behavior.

It is interesting to note that, in many ways, all of your corporate social justice activities attract attention from consumers. We studied thirteen activities that brands, companies, leaders and employees do that cause consumers to notice and then buycott or boycott. All thirteen activities were selected by between 7% and 10% of U.S. consumers as reasons for buycott purchases, and all thirteen were chosen by between 5% and 9% of respondents as the cause of their boycotts. No one activity was conspicuously more powerful (or weaker) than the others. In short, everything you say and do matters.

Once again, I cannot share all of our data, which is available exclusively to Gartner clients. But I can reveal what activity drove the most buycott purchases and which drove the most boycotting:

  • An advertisement from the company or brand was the top answer for what dove “buycott” purchases. One in ten consumers cited advertising as to why they purchased from a brand in support of its social justice stand. Interestingly, ads were the lowest driver of buycott purchases among Gen Zers but the highest among Gen Xers and Boomers.
  • Brand’s political contributions to candidates or parties were the top driver of consumer boycotts. Overall, 9% of respondents cited this as their top reason for abandoning a brand from which they previously purchased.

The top five reasons U.S. consumers buycotted and top five reasons they boycotted were completely different, with one exception that appeared on both lists: The brand’s corporate and business policies (i.e., store policies, hiring practices, outsourcing, supply chain). This is in line with our past research that indicates that consumers expect your brand to take meaningful action in response to social justice issues.

What you say about social justice topics can drive more consumers to support and purchase from your brand, but what your company and leaders do drives more backlash and boycotts. As a result, the CMO’s first job on social justice topics is not to raise the brand’s voice but to minimize brand risk.

Marketing leaders must ensure the company’s actions align with values, public statements and corporate stands. To reduce the risk of being seen as “wokewashing” or using issues about which consumers care deeply merely to polish your brand impact, CMOs must help peers and employees understand how gaps between words and actions can hurt brand perception and preference.

Our research suggests that CMOs and marketing leaders have a vital role to play in corporate social justice initiatives. To protect brands and avoid boycotts, CMOs must work with other executives to evaluate a broad range of activities, including political contributions, corporate practices, and leaders’ activities on and off the job, to identify and influence the most dangerous gaps between words and actions. Simply put, speaking up for a social justice cause can do more harm than good if your brand has failed to earn its voice with authentic action.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts and found it provocative and informative. If you’re a Gartner client, you can learn more research notes we’ve published:

Driving Action With Social Justice Initiatives: What Brands Do to Encourage Buycotts and Boycotts

Do the Right Thing: Social Justice Is a Corporate Strategy, Not a Marketing Strategy

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