Consumer expectation for brand action rises in response to crises: Edelman

Two historic events in the last five months—the pandemic and the death of George Floyd—have raised consumer expectations for how brands contribute to society, according to a special report derived from Edelman’s ongoing Trust Barometer research.

There have been times over the past few years when brands have been asked to speak out in support of various political issues and social causes, said Jennifer Meehan, executive vice-president, brand at Edelman. “But now it is kind of a demand.”

The special report was based in part on consumer surveys in a number of markets, focused specifically on brands, the coronavirus and racial justice.

That acceleration of the consumer trends became clear fairly early on in the pandemic, said Meehan. “Overwhelmingly, we saw Canadians expecting brands to jump in to try to solve what was happening,” she said.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents agreed that Canada will not make it through the crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing challenges. The importance of brands’ responses to the pandemic for consumers has increased over time.

In April, 26% of Canadian respondents said they started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way they responded to the pandemic; by June that number has risen to 35%.

Similarly, in April, 24% of respondents said they had convinced other people to stop using a brand they felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic. By June, it had risen to 34%.

“There’s definitely a lot more pressure on brands to solve societal problems,” and to do so meaningfully, beyond statements of support from a CEO, said Meehan. They want to see a cause or issue backed up in their advertising and the actions they take, she said.

As someone who worked on brands, Meehan said that “it’s kind of scary the responsibility that falls on brands now.” Not long ago, she said, if a company made a good toothpaste and sold it at a reasonable price, that was enough. “Now there’s so much more expectation,” she said.

The Edelman research found similarly high expectations from Canadian consumers related to racial justice issues, with 64% of respondents saying brands should publicly speak out against racism and racial injustice, and 63% saying they want to see concrete action to back up their statements.

More than half (57%) said it is important for brands to speak out against racism and racial injustice, the highest of the markets surveyed (in the U.S. it was 52%).

And 84% of Canadian respondents said brands were more likely to keep or earn their trust if they took some action in response to racial injustice following the death of George Floyd.

“There’s a greater risk not to engage and act, than there is to take action,” see Meehan.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash


David Brown