Nike ad featuring Kaepernick

By: Chris Polis

It is a fact, consumers are more socially and environmentally conscious than ever before. According to Nielson’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 66% of consumers across the globe are willing to spend more if a product comes from a sustainable brand. To stay current with these consumer behavior trends, well-established brands have already, or are in the process of repositioning – causing the entire company to rethink and restructure their marketing strategy and business model. Why? Who are the major players making major changes? 

Consumers want brands they can trust, relate to, and now more than ever; proudly represent. Social media has enabled influencers and brand ambassadors alike to socially thrive and financially survive. For example, an influencer on Instagram with 100,000 followers can charge up to $5,000 for a partnered post. If they were to post every day for a year, that’s a cushy $1.8 million annual salary. Consider some of your own peers in college who are being social influencers for brands to make a little extra cash on the side. 

Social media inspires consumers to be more open with their friends – and sometimes total strangers – about the brands they prefer and use in their everyday lives. Therefore, the reputation of a brand matters to the consumer because it is somewhat of a reflection of the consumer’s reputation. It’s as if a brand image has become an image of our personality. 

Based on this paradigm shift, it’s no longer just consumers with high standards who expect more effort from their brands – it’s everyone. In response, reputable brands are becoming “problem-solvers” for the world, so consumers can positively perceive the brand. If a brand can fix an issue with a resource like capital investment, then consumers of that brand feel like they are a part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem. Fortune 500 companies spend an average of more than $15 billion a year on corporate social responsibility. From a survey of philanthropic CEOs, some of the major issues they expressed concern for were wealth inequality, education, and climate change. 

Believe it or not (no pun intended), climate change is a unique issue because it’s an environmental problem that’s causing social controversy and political debate. Pollution, being a major cause of climate change, has caused environmentally conscious consumers to point a finger or even clench a fist at many non-renewable materials used in production, especially plastic. 

Starbucks announced this past July that they will get rid of all plastic straws within their stores by 2020. Considering Starbucks operates by using more than 1 billion plastic straws a year, this is a considerable step in the right direction against pollution. Adidas also announced in July that they will only use recycled plastics by 2024, estimating that it will save around 40 tons of plastic a year. This is extremely beneficial for the environment, especially when research predicts that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in oceans across the world. Even countries like India are on board, announcing in June that India will eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022. 

In regards to consumers who have increased their awareness of social issues, companies may no longer be able to stay comfortable in the so-called “grey area” when it comes to social issues. Now, brands may have to take a stance and pick a side for a particular social issue; as opposed to remaining impartial or indifferent. For example, we all are familiar with Nike’s most recent and most controversial ad featuring Colin Kaepernick as their spokesperson – causing immediate controversy. Aside from the consumers who swore to never buy Nike products again and even went as far as to burn pairs of shoes; Nike saw a 31% increase in sales after the ad. This was Nike boldly and bravely showing consumers that social impact matters to their brand.  

What do you look for a brand? Do you prefer brands that care as much as you do?