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Why Focus on Social and Political Issues? Part 2

The trend in advertising is to take a stand on social or political issues. Last week, I talked about how overall societal trends are leading those in the marketing profession to feel like they’re doing good by taking a stand on a social issue. But there has been a specific movement within the marketing community that has pushed the issue along. I’ve written a white paper on this (available for free here),but let me summarize the main points.

It was given a major push by Jim Stengel, former CMO of P&G, who did a study and wrote a book alleging that brands that took a stand grew faster. But it seems things aren’t as simple as that. A counter to his argument has been provided by Richard Shotten (a British brand planner) who has spent some time studying Stengel’s work. It seems Stengel’s argument isn’t watertight.

The survey data that is used to support that consumers want a brand to take a stand is flawed.  It’s flawed, precisely because it is survey data. In the real world, people who say stuff in surveys, or sign a petition, may not actually act on their opinions. In order to know how many people will really act, you need to do a different kind of research, with trade off options. Generally, the answer is that the people you attract with such advertising are the people who will already take action on that issue.* I recently talked about this on a webinar that can be seen here.

So, the brand is doing less for the issue than it appears. It just seems to make the people who work on it feel good and tell some customers which brand is for their tribe.

Does it change anything? Probably not. Why not? Next week, I’ll illustrate with a story. Subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss it.

*Devinney, T. M., Auger, P., & Eckhardt, G. M. (2010). The myth of the ethical consumer hardback with DVD. Cambridge University Press

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