Study: 25% of Americans Say Politics Drove Them to Boycott Brands

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Credit: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

Think there's more hoopla about brand boycotts than actual boycotting? Maybe not. A new Ipsos survey found that 25% of Americans said they had stopped using a brand's goods or services in the previous three months because of protests, boycotts or the brand's perceived political leanings.

A quarter of the U.S. population amounts to around 80 million people according to US Census data. "That's a lot of people that are saying politics are driving their purchasing behavior," said Chris Jackson, VP and strategic communication research lead at Ipsos Public Affairs.

"Socially conscientious consumerism has been on the rise for years," said Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W Public Relations. "Given the combination of that trend and the current politically charged climate, it's not surprising to see that such a significant number of Americans have changed their shopping habits due to politics."

Daniel O'Connell, managing director and Brand Definition, an agency that works primarily with tech clients including Hitachi and Philips, was not convinced. That 25% number "probably changes with time," he said. "I think that number, sooner or later, it all equalizes."

Ipsos has not done a similar report before so it does not have any comparable figures from prior years.

The research firm's senior marketing, corporate strategy and public affairs executives worked together to build a survey looking at 28 brands in the politically charged weeks after President Trump's inauguration. Some, such as Nordstrom and Uber, were under fire from the right or left. Others, such as Intel and Comcast, had mostly steered clear. Ipsos asked respondents to identify their political affiliation.

The big takeaway according to Ipsos: Marketers can't always avoid the political fray any more, and are well-advised to at least know their consumers' political leanings.

"It's really important to understand are your customers liberal or conservative, or do they cross the line or are they both," Jackson said.

Some 34% of Republicans surveyed reported boycotting Nordstrom, for example, compared to 12% of Democrats. The study captured respondents in February, when the decision by the retailer to drop Ivanka Trump's clothing line was in the headlines.

The survey also hit right around the time that Uber's decision to cut prices during an airport taxi strike protesting the president's travel ban sparked a #DeleteUber campaign. Some 32% of Democrats in the study said they boycotted Uber, compared to 13% of Republicans.

Among brands not swept up in political fights, Ipsos found less partisan disparity. Roughly three-quarters of respondents from either party said they bought Coke products.

"For particular brands, the people boycotting them are disproportionately made up of partisans from one side or the other," Jackson said. Brands might consider asking customers about political leanings and ideology when conducting consumer research, he suggested.

"While it's unrealistic for a brand to think it can speak to the values of all consumers," said Torossian, "the prevalence of partisanship and the risk of alienating certain market segments is something a brand should consider when ideating and executing ads or campaigns."

O'Connell disagreed, arguing that brands shouldn't worry about political biases of consumers and should refrain from getting caught up in politics. "Swaying one way versus another to mollify or pander maybe to one part of the group -- that makes no sense whatsoever," he said. "As a brand, you've got to stand for something yourselves and it's got to be your values."

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