Procter & Gamble – Why brands are being compelled to choose sides in a polarized political climate
Ad Age publishes a series of case studies and trend reports exclusively for Ad Age Insider subscribers. Already an Insider? Instantly download the latest trend report here. Or learn more about Ad Age membership levels and benefits here. This month, contributing writer Michael Applebaum takes an in-depth look at how brand activism is evolving in the post-Trump, post-COVID, post-BLM era: a phenomenon we’re calling Brands As Citizens.
Perhaps it’s time to add a “v” for values to the traditional 4P’s of marketing. Brand activism is more abundant than ever, and that’s no coincidence. Research suggests that consumers are more likely to reward companies and brands that stand up for the issues they believe in. Brands like Nike, UPS and Toyota that are recognized for their high commitment to purpose have grown at more than twice the rate of others, according to a 2020 Kantar report.
But brands are also getting swept up in a torrent of events beyond their control. Ever since the start of the pandemic and last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, and continuing through the January 6 Capitol Hill riots and backlash over what many see as Georgia’s restrictive new voting law, it seems that companies and brands are increasingly expected to respond to every major cultural or political flash point—and often with a point of view that is in line with today’s younger, diverse and more progressive electorate.
“The events of the past year have made it inescapably clear that brands and companies have a responsibility to step up as both a force of good for society and a force of growth for business,” says Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble. “People are looking at what’s behind the brand: what are its values and beliefs, and what are the specific actions they’re taking to make the world a better place.”
The strategy does come with serious risks. Today’s volatile political landscape is a minefield for corporate leaders, as the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola discovered when their initial lukewarm statements in support of voting rights resulted in calls for major boycotts that led to more forceful announcements. Even Major League Baseball, with its snap decision to move its All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver, seems to have gotten the message.