It’s a company’s responsibility to stand for what is right

Grace Bouton

Fifty years ago, a company taking a stance on political issues would result in a public relations nightmare as well as a decrease in sales. However, today we live in a country where a new generation of people demand transparency not only from politicians but also private institutions, where almost every sector of our lives from the movie industry to the National Football League has some political meaning. Therefore, it is in the best interest of companies as well as their responsibility to the consumer to take stances on political issues of importance.

This political shift in companies such as Nike, Starbucks and Ben and Jerry’s originated from a shift in the consumer. According to a 2015 study by Cone Communications, 91 percent of millennials now say they would switch brands to one associated with a cause, while 59 percent believe CEOs and higher executives should be involved with social and political problems according to a survey by Sprout Social. As consumers have become aware of the donations and support that large corporations have given to political institutions and candidates, they have started to view each dollar spent not just as a trip to the coffee shop or on a new pair of shoes, but also as financial support to a set of values. This altered consumer mentality is fostered in our capitalist market which places the burden on companies as opposed to consumers, preventing American companies from attempting to continue walking the middle ground.

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Illustration by Grace Bouton

Many may argue that by taking a side with controversial issues such as abortion or the recent NFL kneeling protests, companies are eliminating a whole demographic of consumers, who disagree with their views, unnecessarily. However, in the age of polarized politics and values, attempting to please all consumers has become impractical, which has ensured greater financial losses for companies who tried to remain silent as opposed to those who choose to speak up.

For example, Nike recently released an ad for their 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign, featuring ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback and political activist Colin Kaepernick. Many took to social media to show their disapproval of the ad by burning their Nike attire, while others questioned Nike’s decision to make such a political statement on an issue that has already divided the country. However, since the Kaepernick ad was released Nike’s stock has reached its all-time high of $83.47, and their online sales have increased by 31 percent the day after the ad premiered. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 67 percent of people ages 18-34 approve of the ad. This rise in sales and approval of the younger Americans demonstrates the connection between the altered consumer state of mind in the more politically active generations
and the financial benefits of companies that take stands on issues no matter how controversial.

Creamy “mint chocolate chunk” Breyers ice cream has been my favorite for years. Though, after I recently discovered the support that Ben and Jerry’s gives the LGBTQ community, highlighted in their “ I dough, I dough” flavor released after gay marriage was legalized, I abandoned my childhood favorite, whose company stayed silent on political issues, and decided to think politically and ethically, even when it came to ice cream. This shift in consumer mentality across the rising generations is about more than just choosing one brand or the other, it speaks to the broader issue of consumer spending influencing our country’s politics. By mindlessly buying products whether those companies align with our values our not, we are slowly diminishing our voice as a citizen in the doings of the government. Therefore, just as information about candidates, legislature and voting are American rights, the knowledge of corporations’ values is just important as a right. The message we send while buying ice cream is just as significant as when we punch a ballot.