You may have noticed an odd trend recently: companies and brands with no connection to politics weighing in on the trendy social justice topic of the moment. From #MeToo to #BLM, corporate hashtag activism seems out of place because ultimately, who cares what Pepsi or Target think about politics? But, whether due to internal pressure from employees or perceived external pressure from customers, this practice has gone from unheard of to nearly universal in only a few years.
New polling conducted by Brunswick Insight suggests corporations should be wary of woke activism in their marketing strategies. The tactic of speaking out publicly after every social and political flashpoint may seem smart in the corporate boardroom, but it’s actually hurting companies’ standing with both the “justice crusaders” they’re attempting to reach and customers who would prefer companies not espouse their every political view. Companies and brands that reject these vapid tactics and put customers first in their marketing are better off for it.
The study’s findings are eye-opening, but not surprising. They show a massive disconnect between corporate executives and customers when it comes to how, or even if, corporations should engage on social issues. While 63 percent of corporate executives think that companies should speak out on social issues, only 36 percent of voters say the same. Even worse, corporate executives have a vastly overinflated view of their own effectiveness when communicating on the social issue du jour—three-quarters of corporate executives (74 percent) believe their messaging on these issues is effective, while only 39 percent of voters agree.
The issue with corporate executives engaging on social issues boils down to authenticity. A majority of corporate executives polled in this survey (57 percent) believe when they speak out on social issues, it’s because they “want to achieve real change.” But a majority of voters (61 percent) believe it’s because these corporate executives want to “look better to consumers.”
A similar disconnect emerged when corporate executives and customers were asked about the true motives behind companies displaying a rainbow flag during Pride month or advocating for diversity in the workplace. Most customers simply assume these are corporate marketing tactics, not sincere outreach efforts or a statement of real values. Such virtue signaling isn’t perceived as authentic and actually damages brands’ reputations.
So why does the c-suite think of itself as a trusted voice on social matters despite evidence that its efforts don’t work and may even be counterproductive? Brunswick writes that “[t]he impulse to engage is only part of the story and does not stand alone. People are tired of politics. Democrats and Republicans are disliked, and voters don’t want to read about politics or watch it on TV. And Brunswick’s new data suggest they do not want corporations necessarily weighing in on the issue of the day.” Corporate America is among the least-trusted institutions in the country, ahead of only Congress and television news, according to Gallup.
As news stories mount of corporate wrongdoing and a disregard for human rights throughout the world, from Nike relying on Uyghur slave labor in China to Amazon abusing its workers right here in the United States to large chemical and oil companies polluting across the globe, woke corporate messaging rings hollow. As much as corporate executives may consider themselves moral as well as economic leaders, customers are not clamoring for their shallow brand of corporate activism. They see right through the tactics.
Authenticity is one of the most valuable commodities in an era of social media phoniness, and corporations would be wise to stick with what they’re good at and reject the woke public messaging. In the meantime, Americans should prioritize spending their hard-earned money at companies that put customers first.
Of course, the pervasiveness of corporate virtue signaling makes that difficult, so customers’ individual choices can only be a part of the solution. Employees and investors must lead the charge from within corporate America to demand the c-suite wake up and reject the influence of leftist political and social forces that are disconnected from the majority of their customer base. Ridiculous corporate hashtag activism deserves to be mocked, but it is symptomatic of a broader, much more insidious woke cancel culture that must be fought. Corporations must be taught to oppose this pressure in the only language they speak: their bottom line. Only when corporate wokeism is no longer financially lucrative will it end.
Mike Davis is the founder and president of Unsilenced Majority, an organization dedicated to opposing cancel culture and fighting back against the woke mob and their enablers. Davis has served in all three branches of the federal government, including most recently as chief nominations counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee.