Research

James Swift

23 January 2024

Strategist’s Digest: Advice and brand activism 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

Making brand activism successful: How advice‑giving can boost support behavior and reap benefits for the brand

By Carina Thürridl and Frauke Mattison Thompson. First published in Marketing Letters.

Give it to me in one sentence.

Brands doing activism as part of their marketing might be more successful if they consult consumers about which causes they champion.

Give me a little more detail.

The researchers devised a series of experiments to test whether people were more likely to support brand activism if the brands in question first sought their advice about which causes to adopt.

In all of the tests, the researchers showed participants descriptions of three environmental movements. Then, half of the participants were simply told which movement a brand had chosen to support. But the other half were asked to advise the brand which environmental cause they thought it should throw its weight behind.

Afterwards, the researchers asked the participants questions to determine how likely they were to support the environmental cause, what they’d be willing to do to show their support, and in the case of the third experiment, the researchers told the advice-giving participants that the brand in question had either taken or ignored their suggestion.

All of the experiments showed that participants who gave brands advice on which environmental movement to support were more likely to get behind the cause themselves. For example, in one of the experiments, 50% of the advice-giving participants said they’d sign up to receive updates about the movement, compared with 39.6% in the control group.

According to the researchers, the results showed that normative influence was responsible for the differences between the advice-giving and control groups. Essentially, people like to avoid hypocrisy, and recommending that a brand supports a cause can make them feel obligated to do the same.

Finally, telling advice-giving participants that the brand had either followed or ignored their suggestions revealed that consulting consumers is basically a no-lose scenario. Participants liked the brand better and were more inclined to support its chosen cause when they gave advice and when they were told that the brand had followed it. But there was little or no difference between participants who had not been asked for their advice and those who were told it had been rejected.

Why is this interesting?

These are cautious times for brands pursuing activism as a marketing strategy, given what happened to Bud Light and others in the US in 2023. But more broadly, the research offers support for the notion that people are more likely to engage with a brand when they are involved.

Any weaknesses?

As the researchers note, they only tested their hypothesis on environmental causes, and those usually aren’t the controversial ones.

Also, we wonder if brands that solicit advice from consumers on which causes to support could find themselves accused of bandwagon-jumping for their own cynical gain.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, and it’s free.

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