America’s Jagged Political Gap Snags Brands

Consumer boycotts are widespread

Author: Monica Melton

June 9, 2017

America’s political polarization goes beyond candidates and parties—now brands, too, are feeling the split.

According to a new study from market research company Ipsos, one in four US internet users have stopped using products or services from a company in the last three months because of its political leanings or because of protests or boycotts.

Taken as a whole, boycotting is not the tool solely of the left or the right. But individual boycotts often have a clear partisan edge. For example, the study found a Republican skew among those who said they had boycotted Nordstrom, which made headlines when it announced it would no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s products.

On the other hand, the study found a distinct Democratic skew among those who said they had boycotted L.L. Bean and Under Armour, two companies where senior executives drew attention for support for Donald Trump.

Given the ferocious political polarization of the US (and many other countries), it might seem wise for brands remain on the sidelines as much as possible. But, Ipsos warned, “keeping one’s head down” is no longer a workable strategy.

Consumers are increasingly organizing their behavior around their political identity, Ipsos said. “With consumers demanding a certain political behavior, the ability to stay on the sidelines is disappearing,” it said.

The key takeaway, said Chris Jackson, vice president, public affairs US at Ipsos, is that anyone can become the subject of political controversy. “Even if a brand does not want to engage with politics, which is probably a smart play, being prepared can make the difference when a storm eventually comes along,” he said.

Some of these political stirrings can be seen in an August 2016 survey by Accenture, which found that 37% of US internet users said that support of a common cause was likely to influence their loyalty to a company or a brand.

For marketers and retailers, the good news is that the Accenture survey found that consumers were much more likely to care about whether companies could be trusted to safeguard and respect their personal information—that was cited as a factor by 85% of the survey respondents, far more than those who were concerned about companies’ political or social stances.