We live in a politically charged era in which companies are increasingly aligning themselves with social causes and issues. Nike, perhaps one of the most famous examples, was the subject of a recent Forbes piece on this trend of “cause positioning.” However, the brand is far from the only company to take a stand—and enjoy greater awareness and even increased revenue as a result.
Even without clicking on the Forbes link, it would be nearly impossible not to know why Nike provides a great case study for cause positioning. The company’s decision to work with controversial athlete Colin Kaepernick made headlines and attracted plenty of accolades and derision from both sides of the political aisle. Political opinions aside, the move was a calculated PR gamble but there are many other examples of brands launching campaigns directly tied to the social agenda. Among them:
In 2017, yogurt-maker Yoplait launched its “Mom On” campaign, focusing on what the brand identified as a universal truth: “First rule of motherhood, someone’s always judging.” As writer Nikki Gilliland put it in an eConsultancy piece, “Yoplait decided to tap into a common public debate: mum-shaming. This relates to the often preachy, or patronizing information given to mothers about how to be a good parent and the shaming of those who do not follow it.” While parenting decisions may not be as polarizing as the issues for which Kaepernick stands, Yoplait’s campaign nevertheless made a splash and distinguished the brand from its competition. Gilliland cites a Google analysis which showed a 1,461 percent increase in brand interest stemming from the campaign.
According to the YouTube description of Dodge’s “Courage is Already Inside” commercial, it “is an empowering message that reminds women that they have what it takes to break stereotypes and achieve their goals.” The campaign was a subtle way of showing where Dodge stands on debates surrounding gender equality. Or, as Inc. contributor Jessica Stillman put it, “Dodge stands for toughness and women are tough as heck too, it wants you to know.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods
In response to widespread gun violence, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced in 2018 that it was banning the sale of assault-style rifles and raising the minimum age to purchase to 21. The move was a bold statement that risked alienating a core segment of the company’s customers.
This and other cause positioning examples beg the question: How can companies ensure their campaigns don’t backfire and that the customers who support the cause at hand outnumber those who disagree?
In a word, data. As Jerry Davis, a University of Michigan professor of management and sociology, told Vox’s Nadra Nittle, “Companies now have much better real-time intelligence about their customers. They know whether the people who buy Nike are more likely to be pro- or anti-Kaepernick and the likely reaction to this marketing.”
As such, it’s critical that any organization seeking to align itself with social issues first invest in a customer analytics strategy. With cause positioning becoming increasingly popular—a recent Accenture survey found 62 percent of consumers want brands to stand for the issues about which they are passionate—expect this to be a growing area of analytics investment.