Cause marketing - gay marriage
Marketing Content Strategy

Cause Marketing: When Brands Take a Stand on Social Issues

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After the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage, brands flocked to digital channels to show their support. The huge response revealed two content marketing trends: Consumers want and expect brands to take a stand on social issues, and brands can no longer afford to shy away from controversial topics.

Cause Marketing: Brands in Action

A striking number of heavyweight brands clamored to celebrate marriage equality on social media. A few examples:

As long as you are you, #ItsMillerTime. #Equality #MarriageEquality #LoveWon #LoveWins

A photo posted by Miller Lite (@millerlite) on

Uber even added subtle-but-effective rainbows to vehicle icons on its app.Uber jumps on board with cause marketing by celebrating gay marriage.

Not all users were celebratory though. While the social media posts generated plenty of likes, they also generated disapproval from some.

Weigh the Risks and Benefits

The negative responses highlight the risk brands take when navigating social issues. Taking a stand may earn cheers from some, but jeers from others.

Earlier this year, a Wells Fargo ad featuring a lesbian couple earned the ire of Frank Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, who publicly called on Christians to boycott the bank. Starbucks’ foray into race relations—via the words “race together” scrawled on coffee cups—earned swift social media backlash.

But despite the risks, brands can’t afford to avoid social issues as they once did. A study from Global Strategy Group found 72 percent of adults believe it’s important for businesses to address important issues facing society. A company’s stance can also affect the bottom line: Americans are 8.1 percent more likely to buy from companies that share their viewpoints, and 8.4 less likely to buy from companies that don’t, a study from Forbes/Qualtrics found. The finding is more pronounced with the younger set: Consumers ages 26-35 are 21 percent more likely to say they’ll shop at a company whose socio-political stances mirror their own.

Tread Carefully

Given the potential pitfalls, content marketers should approach cause marketing carefully. A few considerations:

Brand identity: Before engaging in social or political issues, brands need to understand their identity beyond the product or service they sell. What are the brand’s values, and how might those values translate to social issues? Not all brands may need to comment on the social topics of the day. But chiming into the discussion may be appropriate when it aligns with a brand’s identity.

Plan carefully and expect detractors: Content marketing around controversial social topics should be carefully considered. Take extra time to plan potentially sensitive content, and have plan in place to address negative reactions.

Be prepared to respond: Brands should be ready to defend their content, if needed. Starbucks explained its rational behind the Race Together campaign; Wells Fargo reiterated its support for same sex families in light of Graham’s comments. Brands should be ready to double down on their position when called for.

For more on digital content strategy, check out Skyword’s webinar on ways to increase audience loyalty.

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