Americans Expect Companies to Focus on Social Issues
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Holmes Report

Americans Expect Companies to Focus on Social Issues

Americans expect business to play an important role in addressing critical social issues, according to the 2010 Edelman goodpurpose study, which found that 87 percent of Americans believe companies need to give equal weight on society’s interests and business interests.

Paul Holmes

Americans expect business to play an important role in addressing critical social issues, according to the 2010 Edelman goodpurpose study, which found that 87 percent of Americans believe companies need to give equal weight on society’s interests and business interests. And 80 percent feel that corporations are in a uniquely powerful position to make a positive impact on good causes.


Moreover, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) feel that it is no longer enough for corporations to simply give money away to good causes, they need to integrate their focus on social issues into their day-to-day business.


“Cause related-marketing, as we know it, is dead,” says Carol Cone, managing director, brand and corporate citizenship at Edelman. “Purpose must now be engrained into the core of a company or brand’s proposition. It is no longer enough to slap a ribbon on a product. It must be authentic, long-term and participatory.


“Americans are seeking deeper involvement in social issues and expect brands and companies to provide various means of engagement. We call this the rise of the ‘citizen consumer’.”


Consumers’ expectation that government should do the most for good causes has declined dramatically since 2009, while their expectation of “people like me” has jumped. Almost a third (30 percent) of U.S. consumers now believe that government should be doing the most to support good causes, down 11 points from 2009, while 23 percent believe that “people like me” should be doing the most, up 8 points from last year. And 74 percent believe brands and consumers could do more to support good causes by working together.


“This year produced a string of events that propelled our collective social consciousness into overdrive,” says Mitch Markson, chief creative officer and the founder of Edelman goodpurpose. “From the continuation of a deep recession, to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, to the protracted oil disaster in the Gulf, events have created a tremendous outcry from consumers that companies not only need to act as responsible citizens, but they also need to lead innovative solutions in a way that only business can.


“The results of the election this week may indicate voters’ declining trust in government to solve the most pressing social issues of the day. Business and individuals will have to do more.”


For four years in a row, U.S. consumers rank purpose as significantly more important than design and innovation or brand loyalty as a purchase trigger when quality and price are the same. According to the 2010 goodpurpose study,

nearly half (47 percent) cite social purpose as the number one deciding factor, while 27 percent cite loyalty to the brand and 26 percent cite design or innovation when quality and price are the same.


“Purpose is now the fifth P of marketing,” says Markson. “It’s a vital addition to the age-old marketing mix of product, price, place, and promotion. Purpose allows brands to have a deeper level of engagement with their consumers—and it also allows consumers to put their own mark on brand marketing by collaborating with brands to tackle important social issues.”


Despite the prolonged recession, nearly three out of four Americans (72 percent) report they are more likely to give their business to a company that has fair prices and supports good cause than to a company that provides deep discounts but does not contribute to good causes. In fact, more than half of consumers say that they are willing to pay more for a product that donates a portion of its profits to a good cause.


While a significant number of American consumers are willing to purchase, recommend and promote companies that show a commitment to good causes, many are also willing to punish those that do not. More than one-third of Americans would punish a company that doesn’t actively support a good cause by criticizing it to others (34 percent), refusing to buy its products/ services (36 percent), or sharing negative opinions and experiences (37 percent). Nearly one half (47 percent) would not invest in such a company.


Finally, even though American consumers remain highly involved in supporting good causes, they are now outpaced by a surge of citizen consumerism in the emerging markets. Consumers in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico are more likely than Americans to purchase and promote brands that support good causes. They also demonstrate higher expectations of brands to support good causes.


Approximately 8 in 10 consumers in the emerging markets (Brazil: 87 percent, Mexico: 85 percent, China and India: 79 percent) expect brands to do something to support a good cause, while only sixty-three percent of Americans agree.


“Brazil, China, India and Mexico have reached a tipping point in terms of economic development and their consumers no longer need to make trade-offs,” says Cone. “In emerging markets, the dramatic rise of ‘the citizen consumer’ has happened so quickly because battles over societal issues like natural resources and human rights have taken place right in their backyards. They understand purpose and want it to be at the center of their lives and their everyday interactions with brands.”


Additional findings:

  • When American consumers were asked to name (unaided) “brands [that] come to mind as placing as much or more importance on supporting a good cause as they place on profits,” the top five brands were Pepsi, Newman’s Own, Nike, Coca-Cola and Tide
  • 78 percent of American consumers believe government and business need to work together more closely to ensure the environment is protected
  • More than two-thirds (67 percent) would support legislation that requires corporation to meet certain environmental standards even it if would negatively impact a corporations profits.
  • More than one-third of Americans (34 percent) say they would prefer to receive a donation to a good cause as a gift rather than an item that a friend had picked out “knowing that you would like it.”
  • 79 percent of Americans think it is OK for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time
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