Balancing Brand Safety with Standing Up for What’s Right

By Madison Taylor
May 22, 2022
fists raised into the air

Customers have grown more outspoken in their preferences and social stances in the last several years. From equality to social and political issues and environmental concerns, brands have been inclined to respond in an attempt to resonate with their target demographic.

For example, many belief-driven millennial consumers continue to push brands toward socially responsible marketing and their risk-averse nature compared to previous generations. Now more than ever, businesses need to prioritize brand safety in their organizational operations, avoiding negative impressions that may result in long-term reputational damage.

Aligning corporate and business values with customer preferences will help optimize brand safety and longevity while keeping consumers engaged. However, the road toward corporate responsibility remains mired with challenges, where the slightest miscalculation could lead to a significant customer loss.

Fine-Tuning Value-Based Communication

Modern consumers want brands that promote the business’s intent rather than product features or service offerings. Major companies have found success in the socially driven approach while retaining their brand’s essence.

For instance, coffee giant Starbucks sponsors educational opportunities for employees, which projects the company as a supporter of continuous education and talent well-being. Brands need to openly discuss and act on important issues that matter to consumers across carefully organized social good campaigns.

However, society remains highly polarized, and brands need to tread carefully when advertising a cause on the public stage. In other words, consumers want brands to speak, but the reflected tone and stance require proper preparedness to avoid backlash, especially when dealing with highly sensitive social topics.

A market survey conducted by Axios revealed that an increasing number of customers favor brands that work toward a brighter future. Specifically, legacy brands face challenges from mission-driven companies with the vision of replacing rigid business practices with empathetic marketing campaigns and business narratives.

Challenges in Taking a Stand on Social Issues

Artificial intelligence company GumGum and Custom reports that brand safety issues affect 75% of companies, but only a small percentage (26%) of businesses have taken proactive action to prevent the problem.

Determining the proper communication, channels, and delivery methods will drive the success of current marketing efforts that feature a social, political, or environmental element. Marketers will need to shift and realign their promotional strategies accordingly to optimize their brand’s reputation.

Notable Examples in Spreading Social Good

Many large companies have recently engaged in social good campaigns, striking a chord with their customer base and fostering long-term loyalty. However, some campaigns have met with poor responses that quickly undo a brand’s advertising and marketing efforts.

Negative News and Backlash

In one largely unsuccessful campaign titled “Live for Now- Moments,” renowned beverage manufacturer Pepsi engaged celebrity icon Kendall Jenner as their spokesperson to connect with the millennial audience.

While the campaign intended to unite consumers through a shared passion for enjoyment, the initiative seemed to trivialize the seriousness of social activism and mobilize crowds through the context of a fun beverage. The outpouring of backlash from critics and social media users resulted in Pepsi revoking the advertisement within 48 hours of release.

Similarly, sports brand New Balance got on the wrong side of consumers due to the unpopular political opinions made public regarding the Trump administration.

In the case of New Balance, consumers reacted strongly to the brand’s support of Trump on Twitter, featuring individuals posting videos of anti-sentiment responses, such as burning and running over the brand’s iconic sneakers with their vehicles.

Such marketing and advertising gaffes lead to costly PR damage control and follow-up statements from top leaders that may not reverse the reputational damage done. While transparency remains a necessity between brands and consumers, an open sharing of a sincere message might not echo public sentiments, resulting in negative responses.

In such scenarios, decision-makers need to gauge the feasibility of going public with a statement, weighing their brand’s safety against the need for participating in social issues.

Successfully Connecting With Audiences via Social Issues

Successful branding requires a breakdown of the consumer’s needs, priorities, and concerns, especially in the increasingly volatile market and economy. Decision-makers need to position their companies as an extension of public sentiment rather than attempt to challenge and upset communities.

Marketers can achieve this by gaining a pulse of social trends by reviewing public forums, news reports, and other insightful online channels.

A thorough evaluation of qualified market data can serve as a litmus test for gauging potential customer responses and setting up brand safety measures. Business leaders and marketers need to recognize what customers expect brands to prioritize and how companies will stick to that promise.

Additionally, publishing platforms and social media sites continue to implement strict content vetting processes aimed at optimizing brand safety while companies continue to reach out and engage billions of worldwide users.

Ultimately, combining quality-check improvements and data-backed marketing decisions will help brands foster and maintain customer trust through the trickiest social situation. As Martin Luther King Jr once shared, “the time is always right to do the right thing.” Brands just need to identify the right thing for their business.