Americans React to Companies' Stances on Gay Marriage, Social Issues

Controversy-Feature-Field_Agent

Gay marriage. Gun control. Abortion. Religion. All are controversial issues; all are dividing the country. Yet, increasingly, companies are showing willingness to "take sides" in heated social-political debates. But what are the implications for businesses, good and bad, that decide to take public stances on "hot button" topics. This important and timely report from Field Agent is based on the results of a survey of 1,000 consumers, who took the opportunity to speak out about companies' controversial stands.

[The following is an excerpt from our full report, which you can download HERE]

America is divided. According to Pew Research Center, the country is presently witnessing greater levels of political polarization than “at any point in recent history.” Among Americans, moderate, middle-of-the-road positions have given way to more extreme, less yielding stances. And on many “hot button” social-political issues, clear sides have become readily apparent.

Some companies, too, are taking sides. As suggested by recent advertisements, social media posts, corporate donations, and so on, retailers and brands are increasingly backing one side of various social-political debates. As just one example, Fortune reported that 379 companies signed a brief petitioning the Supreme Court to rule in favor of gay marriage. Other examples abound.

Taking Sides: What are the positive & negative implications?

Whether it’s LGBT rights, abortion, gun control, or another hot button issue, some companies are no longer content to just sit on the sidelines. They’re choosing a team…and jumping in the game.    

“Taking a position on a hot-button social issue has usually been full of risk for a corporation,” wrote Phil Wahba of Fortune, specifically focusing his remarks on gay marriage. “But with the general public’s views on gay marriage shifting…it is now clearly less dangerous for companies to take a stand” (emphasis added).

But “less dangerous” doesn’t necessarily mean “not dangerous.” Nor does it follow that “less dangerous” translates to advantageous.

The trend toward greater social-political participation among companies begs a question: What are the positive and negative implications of taking sides in the culture wars, that is, on controversial social-political issues?

See Also: 4 Customer Reactions to Companies’ Controversial, ‘Hot Button’ Views

To explore this important and timely question, Field Agent recently surveyed 1,000 adults throughout the United States. Our sample reflected the country as a whole along three important variables: gender, age, and political ideology (conservative, liberal, or moderate). We pegged our sample to benchmarks from Gallup on the political affiliations of three U.S. generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials).

Below are just four insights from this study. Download the full, colorful report HERE.

1. To stop buying in disagreement is more prevalent than to start buying in agreement, when we consider actual behavior and not just behavioral intentions. 

While only 21% said they have ever started buying a brand or shopping at a retailer in agreement over a controversial matter, upwards of half (45%) indicated they had stopped buying from a company out of disagreement.

For some, even a "non-position' justifies a reaction

2. On five different “hot button” issues, gay marriage evoked the strongest start-stop reactions among consumers.

36% of respondents indicated they had either started or stopped buying from a company as a direct result of its position on gay marriage.

3. For some consumers, even a “non-position” justifies a reaction. 

Altogether, 41% said they would stop buying from a company that missed an opportunity to take a public stand on an issue they consider worthwhile. 

4. How consumers react to a company’s controversial stand is at least partially a function of the issue itself.

At 55%, climate change was the only issue among four in which more than half of respondents felt companies should take public positions.

See the Press Release about our Free Special Report here. 

Download the Special Report for Free

See the full report for greater detail on these and other important insights, including interesting cross-generational (Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y) and cross-ideological (conservatives, liberals, and moderates) comparisons. The report also contains an inside-look at how consumers reacted to a recent controversial social media campaign. This highly relevant and informative report puts you inside the consumer mind, to understand how they feel about this new trend among companies toward greater involvement in social-political affairs. 

Free Special Report: Consumers Reactions to Companies' Stances on Social, Political Issues