While there's some evidence that businesses should get involved in hot button political issues of the day, U.K. marketplace OnBuy found that some issues are more palatable than others. More than half (60%) of Americans say businesses should stick to what they know and not get involved in cultural or political matters, according to their analysis of data from Morning Consult.
But some issues do require attention, according to that breakdown, which was emailed to Retail Dive. The vast majority (61%) of Americans say that a company should advocate for civil rights, for example, followed by "the rights of racial minorities" (57%), reforming the criminal justice system (54%), stricter gun control (44%) and gay rights (42%).
Other issues were too hot for most Americans, presenting danger for brands: Only 38% want to see brands wade into the rights of protestors kneeling during the national anthem, with similarly low results for brands supporting anti-choice abortion policies (36%) and Republican candidacies (35%).
Turbulent political times might seem like a good time to avoid controversial issues, but Americans aren't letting retailers and other businesses off so easy.
Global Strategy Group, which has tracked U.S. consumers' appetites for the mixing of business and politics earlier this year found a "marked increase in the number of consumers who are actively seeking out information about where companies stand on important social and political issues," according to their fifth annual "Business & Politics: Do They Mix?" report. A huge majority of Americans (81%) believe corporations should take action to address important issues facing society and only somewhat fewer (77%) think they actually have a responsibility to do so.
The most high-profile example of a business taking a stance in recent months was Nike's decision to have Colin Kaepernick rep their Just Do It campaign. That move was widely seen as a branding play for younger consumers, who are more likely to be comfortable or outright desire a business to be political and who are more sympathetic to Kaepernick's civil rights message, according to some experts who spoke to Retail Dive.
Any long-term effect on actual sales remains to be seen. But brain analysis suggests that the ad was less controversial than the immediate social media outcry suggested, according to Spark Neuro, a company that evaluates audience engagement in advertising through neuroactivity measurements. Scans of brain activity revealed that emotional activity was remarkably the same among left-leaning, right-leaning and independent consumers as they viewed Nike's ad, and that, while Republicans registered some agitation around some aspects of the ad, they only slightly wavered in their existing notions of Nike, including positive ones.
"We live in a world in which loud but small groups in social media and a vocal press make it appear that Nike is in hot water, but in reality, perceptions of Nike across groups changed very little," Spark Neuro CEO Spencer Gerrol said in a statement. "Social media metrics highlight the edges, not the norm. While burning shoes vs. advocating for the brand took center stage, the real world of consumers was far less moved than it seems on the surface. If anything, Nike got an unbelievable amount of free press thanks to the hype."
What may be more solid is younger consumers' expectations of a company's own behavior. More than half (54%) of younger millennials surveyed by Accenture say that retailers have a responsibility to address diversity and 51% are more likely to shop at a retailer that demonstrates such awareness, according to a study emailed to Retail Dive. Similarly, Sprout Social found that nearly half (46%) of consumers want brands to be transparent about employment practices, 50% want visibility into business practices and 53% want to hear about company values. A much greater majority (89%) say a business can regain their trust if it admits to a mistake and is transparent about the steps it will take to address it, according to Sprout Social's report, which was emailed to Retail Dive.