Dear Brands: If You Want to Profit,
Fight For Us.
HENRY KAYE / WNW Member
Only 15% of the global population believe the “Present system” is working 1 . The people’s trust in every institution is at an historic low 1 . Trust in media fell precipitously in the past year, while trust levels in government dropped even lower. The credibility of leaders is also in peril: CEO credibility dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low, while government leaders remain the least credible 2 . Of the four major institutions — business, government, NGOs, and media — only business is viewed as the institution that is most likely to bring about significant positive change. 1,2
Not only do 78% of Americans agree that companies should take action to address the important issues facing society, but 88% agree that corporations have the power to influence social change 3,4 . This is not because the people have a positive history with business: only 13% of Americans believe that industry has brought about positive change in the past 5 . Rather, many Americans feel that business is the only institution they have the capacity to sway.
This past year has demonstrated just how driven Americans are to do this: 50% have participated in a boycott in the last twelve months, a figure that is up 20% from the previous year 6 . Three-quarters of us (76%) would refuse to purchase a company’s product if they found its leaders supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. This number jumps even higher for the young among us 7 . With widespread boycotts of companies like Uber, Pepsi, and L.L Bean, along with the BUYcotts of Lyft, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kind Bars, and (again) Starbucks, we are shown again and again that a company’s ethics and code of conduct can produce widespread support or denouncement by the American public.
The traditional convention of capitalism is that ethics and profit are frequently at odds. However, we are entering an era of what economist Chris Ladd calls “Social Capitalism,” in which people treat a purchase less like a trade of goods and more like a vote 8 . In this climate, narrow-minded profit optimization simply fails to compete. Simultaneously, venture capital giants like Laurence Fink of BlackRock have told business leaders that they risk losing investments if they do not give back to society 9 . No matter if you’re a diehard capitalist or fervent socialist, the numbers tell the same story: We are entering a future where the socially ethical business is profitable.
US&A, or Uniting Strategists and Activists, is a strategic group that believes that a partnership between brands and activists is not only mutually beneficial, but necessary. As activists, we recognize the opportunity socially ethical business creates, both in the interest of business and social change. However, we are painfully aware of how neither interest will be met, and perhaps both detracted from, if brands don’t seek to bring about social change in a mindful way, with the right voices at the table.
We are strategists, activists, and data scientists who wish to help brands identify what social problems their consumers most care about. We then bring the right voices to the table to find creative ways for brands to address these problems. And, yes, at present America has its problems: More people have been killed in schools this year than have been killed while deployed as members of the military 10 . By 2020, 95% of Americans who enter a hospital will leave in Medical debt 11 . There are estimated to be more innocent men and women working in jail at present than there were slaves in Virginia, the largest slave holding state, at the onset of the Civil War 12,13 . And while many marketers still believe it’s corporate dogma to ignore what may be unpleasant or disturbing, our data shows something quite to the contrary: This may be necessary for companies to stay alive.
When so many of us see our political institutions governing without the consent of the governed, we challenge business leaders to fill this void. Partner with us, the people. Stand for us. Use your creative and monetary resources to amplify our voices. If you meet these challenges, each and every one of us has something to gain.
Henry Kaye is a is a creative strategist and data-driven designer. He identifies patterns and trends within data, then turns these into compelling stories or strategies. He has two degrees, one in neuroscience and the other in design, has worked as an editor and critic, and has made everything from data sculptures for Twitter to creative strategies for eBay, Nike, and Target.
Illustration by Emily Schiff-Slater