The Hidden Reason Why Companies Are Adopting ‘Social Responsibility’ in Their Branding

After the tragic Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Fla., companies started distancing themselves from the NRA, DICK’S Sporting Goods pledged to stop selling “assault rifles,” TV networks paused their programing for the national school walk-out, and tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft even changed their pistol emojis to look less like real firearms. Even outside of cultural-political moments like this, companies have started shooting for political themes in advertising, and more often than not, they skew left.

The advent of social media and the aging of millennials might give Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) an odd power over corporate branding. Even so, praising companies for their “social responsibility” would be naive — such political moves are actually an advertising tactic.

Even Alex Shephard at the lefty magazine The New Republic realized that “it would be a mistake to see these moves as genuine attempts to address American society’s many ills, let alone as adequate substitutes for government action. It is more accurate to see them as high-wire acts in ad-hoc branding—attempts to stay above the popular disgust that has swallowed up the government and just about every other major institution in America.”

Two-thirds of consumers (66 percent) told the social media company Sprout Social in a poll last September that they want brands to take stands on social and political issues, and 58 percent said this should happen on social media.

Interestingly, while 66 percent of consumers said brands could not change their minds on issues, 39 percent said companies can make a concrete impact by announcing donations to specific causes. Another 37 percent said companies can have an impact by encouraging followers to attend an event or make a donation for a cause.

Unfortunately for conservatives, the Sprout Social poll found that it pays better for a brand to promote liberal causes. A whopping 78 percent of respondents who self-identified as liberal said they want “social responsibility” in branding, while only 52 percent of self-identified conservatives said the same. Also, 82 percent of liberals said they think brands are credible when taking a stand on social or political issues, while only 46 percent of conservatives said so.

If SJWs are yelling for companies to support their pet political projects, and will fawn over a company that does so, while conservatives are less rabid in their demands — and less trusting when a brand actually supports their causes — it stands to reason that it is in a company’s best interest to support liberal causes, even if a majority of Americans might disagree.

Even worse for conservatives, companies expect more reward than risk for adopting political branding. If a brand takes a stand on an issue consumers agree on, 28 percent of them are likely to publicly praise that company. If the company champions a cause consumers disagree with, only 20 percent will publicly attack it.

In short, the wisdom conservatives show by not getting riled up by every issue and by taking a company’s public stance with a grain of salt actually provides strong incentives for a business to market to the other side. Tragically, it pays for a company to cater to SJWs, or at least pretend to do so, on social media.

Even SJWs will sometimes question a company’s motives, however. When Twitter launched an ad with a women’s empowerment theme, an SJW mob vocally attacked the company for its failings to curb online harassment.

As The New Republic‘s Alex Shephard pointed out, DICK’S CEO Edward Stack revealed that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz purchased a weapon from the retailer last fall. “Whatever Walmart and Dick’s think of gun control, neither wants to be in the position of having sold a gun used in a mass shooting,” Shephard explained.

The New Republic writer noted that companies like DICK’S do not have the ability to prevent would-be mass shooters from attaining firearms, and so Stack called for gun control legislation (which also would not prevent access to firearms). “By calling for gun control legislation from Congress, Dick’s is acknowledging that corporate social responsibility is a poor stand-in for government legislation,” the lefty writer explained.

The virtue signaling involved in “corporate social responsibility” can make small changes, but it cannot effect the kind of change for which SJWs hanker. Even so, the politicization of the consumer leads to the politicization of the company.

“What is actually happening is that wise corporations are deftly using the moment to build their brands and appeal to consumers—winning points with tepid moves designed to alienate as few people as possible,” Shephard explained. “But corporate social responsibility isn’t really social responsibility—it’s branding.”

Perhaps as SJWs realize this important truth, the consumer preferences will change, and companies may indeed find a business reason to market to conservatives as well as liberals. The more SJWs demand companies fall in line, conservatives should respond by making SJWs doubt whether a company’s stance is genuine.

In a free market, companies will use advertising to their advantage, and if it pays to adopt liberal causes they will adopt liberal causes. Unfortunately for liberals, this breeds discontent among conservatives, who may then be more riled up to show up to the polls in November.