Sex, Politics, Religion, Oh My: Should Brands Take a Stand on Social Issues?

Envision Creative Group featured in YFS Magazine

Submitted by Staff Contributors on  04/09/2013

Sex and politics and religion, oh my!

The utterance of razor sharp opinions on these societal matters (in public) were once considered taboo and scandalous. Most wouldn’t dare mention what they really thought about their President, much less rant about “how much we love our guns” unless they were ready to start a fight or worse yet, be de-friended on Facebook.

But the times they are a-changin‘ … From economic challenges and gun laws to inequalities and education, social issues repeatedly take center stage and receive a good deal of media attention and discussion at America’s dinner table.

With all of the opinions freely given from family, friends, co-workers and peers — should brands throw their hat into the ring and take a stand on social ills?

Some business owners assert that taking a stand on social issues is important — as it humanizes your brand — while others believe that brands should keep out of conversations around social issues – period.

“It’s all about the brand’s tolerance for risk and what they stand for overall,” said Mat Rednor, chief strategy and innovation officer of MRY. “Entering a polarizing debate will certainly get a brand talked about but invites both positive and negative conversation. So, if a brand wants that, then they better have their response and crisis management strategy in place.”

Scott Goodson, the founder and chairman of Strawberryfrog, suggests that we are living in “the age of uprisings, brand movements and backlashes.” According to Goodson, “it’s a new era where consumers will punish a company for taking a wrong stand, but also for taking no stands at all. In these volatile times, brands actually should become more willing to take a stand.”

But what do entrepreneurs really think about brands that take a bold and definitive stand? Does your company have everything to lose or even more to gain? We asked business owners to take a stand and here’s what they had to say.

1. Be aware of inversely proportional consequences.

“Before I saw brands taking a stand (i.e. most recently for marriage equality), I would have said leave politics to the politicians. But here’s the bottom line: when you make a very clear statement about a political issue as a brand, you are going to do two things. One, you are alienating your business from customers who don’t agree with you. Two, you are increasing the loyalty of customers that do agree with you. There is no “yes or no” answer that’s right for every business.”

– Liz Theresa, Owner of @LizTheresa

2. Be mindful of alienation.

“I think one needs to be mindful not to alienate their target market with personal views, but taking a stand on issues presents more personality and expresses the people behind a brand, which is very important. [Businesses] offer products and services to people [with an] immediate need, but these people have dynamic views, thoughts, and interactions with the world around them. So, presenting more personality; making a brand come alive, gives it more depth.”

– James Agate, Owner of Skyrocket: @jamesagate

3. Make sure your stance is relevant to your business.

“Rescue Chocolate takes a stand on animal rescue issues, such as whether breed-specific legislation (e.g. laws aimed at outlawing pit bulls) should be repealed. Our stands are intimately wrapped up in our brand identity. We donate all profits to various animal rescue organizations.”

– Sarah Gross, Founder and Owner of Rescue Chocolate: @RescueChocolate

4. Forget about ulterior motives.

“There are some issues on which brands (in my humble opinion) can take a stand. Poverty, hunger, helping others, etc. are things that are universally good. Nobody will argue that helping the poor, the needy, or a starving child is bad. A brand that wants to take a stand in order to facilitate the end of suffering, in my opinion, is a good thing. Any brand that decides to take a stand on some religious, political, or issue concerning sexuality should take a look in the mirror and at least admit to themselves that they are doing so for some ulterior motive.”

– Joshua Weiss, CEO of TeliApp Corporation: @teliapp

5. Weigh the merit of your stance.

“A company can decide to take a stand on any social issue if it is passionate about it and also affects or touches on its core values and principles. However, a growing brand or even an established brand wanting to compete effectively with growth and profitability in question, will be smart to remain neutral and avoid controversial stands that can jeopardize efforts to grow the brand. A business cannot spend funds and time to build a brand and get mangled up in a given social issue that could undo all the efforts and reputation in an instant. A brand should therefore weigh the merit of sticking its head out on an issue against potentially alienating prospective clientele.”

– Victor Kwegyir, CEO of Vike Invest, Ltd.: @vikek

6. Always take a stand.

“Brands should always take a stand.  We, as entrepreneurs, start businesses to change the world. In order to do that, we have to choose what we are for and against.  Therefore, we should stand up for what we believe and stand against what is wrong.”

– Daniel James Scott, Founder of Alorum: @sparkcatalyst

7. Ensure your stance aligns with your brand promise.

“A brand is a very serious and fragile thing and must be handled with care. I’m a passionate person and have strong opinions about most things, but as a manager of many brands, it is clear to me that every brand has its own voice and its own passions. For that reason, a brand should most certainly take a stand on issues that align with their brand promise and enhance the brand experience. But they must steer clear of all other hot button issues.”

– Stephanie Silver, Vice President of Envision Creative Group: @envisioncreativ

8. Make sure your stance is relevant to your corporate values.

“If your company is not truly engaged in social issues, then it’s simply a marketing ploy. VoIP Supply became a Certified B Corporation because we put people ahead of profits, give back to the community, and act sustainably. The certification now stands as an example to others in the community that ‘conscious capitalism’ can be a successful business model.”

– Ben Sayers, CEO of VoIP Supply: @benjaminsayers

Ultimately, “branding is all about presenting a clear, consistent message that is compelling to a firm’s target market,” according to William Bolander, Assistant Professor of Marketing at The Florida State University College of Business.

Bolander contends “this suggests that if a company takes a stand on an issue that in a way that will resonate with their target market that it may not matter what people outside of their target market think. So firms thinking about taking a stand on a divisive issue must decide if the value that they receive by taking a stand that will appeal to their target market is greater than the negative reaction of those outside their target market who may not agree with the stance.”