A large group of protestors, many of them holding signs, in a street
PHOTO: Alex Radelich on Unsplash

What was once an objective for more progressively-minded companies like Ben and Jerry’s, the idea that a brand would take a stand on social issues is no longer reserved for the fringe.

And the desire to take a stand, especially on issues that are core to a brand, isn’t just a vanity project for its founders anymore. Today, consumers want to trust the companies they are dealing with, whether it is with how their data is being used or how a company behaves in the world at large.

87 percent of consumers say they would purchase a product from a company that “stood up or advocated for” an issue they care about.

And the informed consumer of today isn’t as passive about social issues as they used to be, they want companies to take initiative and engage.

In fact, 70 percent of consumers want brands to take a stand on social and political issues, according to Sprout Social’s survey.

A study by Deloitte found similar sentiment, with 75 percent of respondents saying taking a stand would demonstrate the company cares about more than profits, while 70 percent said it would help attract customers and partners.

It seems when a company takes a stand on the right issues, it is good for business.

The Detractors

All of this positive attitude from consumers regarding taking a stand is not without detractors or cynicism.

53 percent of consumers believe brands that take a stand do so for PR and marketing purposes, while 35 percent believe that when a brand speaks out it’s “jumping on the bandwagon.”

It is important for brands that are considering taking a stand on social issues to address those that most impact their customers and are relevant to their values. Brands must walk the walk, and respond to their words with real, tangible actions to show consumers they are not blowing hot PR air.

Following are four companies taking a stand for social issues that matter:

1. Ben and Jerry’s

Founded in 1978, one of the first modern companies to embrace causes dear to the hearts of the founders and their companies’ values, is Vermont’s Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. (FYI, Ben and Jerry’s is now a fully owned subsidiary of Unilever. ☹)

From early on in their history, activism has been core to Ben and Jerry’s values and activities. In 1987 they began developing socially-themed ice cream flavors to help raise money for causes dear to their hearts, including themes like global warming, gay rights and those suffering from injustice and persecution.

More recently, in response to the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, Ben & Jerry’s made a statement against racial inequality, which addressed racial discrimination and white supremacy, both throughout history and regarding more recent events.

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2. Delphix

In March 2022, a group of industry-leading CIOs, supported by Delphix, announced the formation of SustainableIT.org, a nonprofit organization focused on addressing critical sustainability through technology leadership.

“Climate change can be prevented but action is needed now,” said Jedidiah Yueh, Founding Director of SustainableIT.org and CEO and Founder of Delphix. “In launching SustainableIT.org, we will be working together with a group of world-class technology experts to determine and define a better path to sustainability success for all, and address a critical gap in how companies are managing their carbon footprint.”

SustainableIT.org is intended to address the fundamental disconnect between society’s need to create a more sustainable environment, and the lack of tools and practices to guide technology practitioners and leaders in getting there.

“For too long sustainability has been someone else’s problem to solve,” said Josh Harbert, President of SustainableIT.org and CMO of Delphix. “It’s time for technology leaders to take a stand for sustainability. Together we will get there.”

As an initial focus, the SustainableIT.org Board will work to create sustainable transformation programs, best practices and frameworks and standards and certifications for technology relating to lowering carbon footprints and environmental impact. The nonprofit will also provide education and training to raise awareness for environmental and societal programs that support initiatives to make the world a healthier and more sustainable place.

3. Nike

One of the most famous examples of a company taking what could potentially be a risky stand was when Nike supported Colin Kaepernick after he took a knee during a football game to protest racial injustice and bigotry.

While this was a divisive move expected to cause consternation with a certain percentage of the American populace, the message resonated with Nike’s core customer audience. An analysis of Nike’s campaign showed more support for Nike and Kaepernick than negative sentiment.

The reality is most of Nike’s customer audience is under 35 years old. And studies have shown between 75 and 80 percent of younger generations want brands to take visible positions on social issues.

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4. Patagonia

Another notable event happened a few years ago when the size of two national monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, were reduced by ex-President Trump by two million acres, the former losing 85 percent and the latter about half their previous size.

To publicize the brand’s position on Trump's unilateral act, Patagonia replaced its website’s traditional homepage with a headline that read:

“The President Stole Your Land”

"Americans have overwhelmingly spoken out against the Trump Administration's unprecedented attempt to shut down our national monuments," said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario in a statement. "We've fought to protect these places since we were founded and now we'll continue that fight in the courts."

Patagonia was able to take and succeed with such a bold response and strategy because it is core to their company's value, as well as most of their customers, that they take an active role in responding to various environmental crises.

It Is Not Without Risk

Brands can have significant influence on their customers seeking information on social issues.

41 percent of consumers said what brands post on social media influences their opinions on public issues, according to Zendesk, while 61 percent said they will conduct further research into an issue that a brand promotes.

But while companies can hold some sway with customers regarding social issues, it is not without risk. 55 percent of consumers say they’d boycott or discontinue shopping with a brand that supports issues that they don’t believe in themselves.

The goal for brands is if they are going to support a social issue, they should focus on ones that most align with their business’s and customers’ core values. And to appear sincere and authentic in your activities is what will shift public opinion.