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How Americans Want Brands to Approach Social Justice in 2023

As the emotional labor of the last three years has taken a toll, interest in equality, social issues, and volunteering are in decline. According to GWI data, fatigue is replacing fighting spirit. How can brands continue to build momentum for critical DEI initiatives in 2023?

GWI uses audience insights to answer the questions every business has about its customers. Powered by consistent data that represents the views of 2.7 billion people in 52 markets, GWI is an on-demand window into their world, painting a picture of what people everywhere think, feel and do. Our platform serves as a tool for the Ad Council’s media strategy in helping to inform campaign audiences, understand current media habits and channel prioritizations.

In our recent Connecting the dots report, we dove deep into how consumers feel about the changing social landscape in America, and the numbers gave us key insights on the role brands can and should continue to play in driving cultural change.

Breaking old patterns

While the call for "doing better" has often been heard, consumers in 2023 demand more than just words. They want to see evidence that brands are creating real change for America.

Just 36% of consumers say that positive progress has been made in the last two years.

GWI data from Q2 2020 reflects the mood of the nation during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd: Being socially responsible was the number one brand priority for Americans.

Two years later, this has shifted to rank third in Q2 2022, and in our last wave of data in Q4 2022, this remains the same. This doesn’t mean companies are devoid of social responsibility, of course—only that communicating about real actions rather than platitudes is critical to combating consumer pessimism.

Consumers want to see impactful behaviors from brands

62% of US consumers care about the impact of social justice issues. And that’s the key word – impact.

Less talk, more action. It’s an obvious statement, but one that continues to be top of mind for consumers. Whenever social justice has been on the agenda in the past few years, consumer sentiment toward brands has been consistent. They want action, impact, and results. This means going beyond just making self-serving statements or symbolic gestures.

After the initial BLM protests in 2020, US consumers wanted brands to review their hiring policies – instead of showing support on social media.

During Pride in 2022, US consumers' top priority was to educate people on LGBTQ+ issues, cultures, and misconceptions – not changing logos and packaging to rainbow colors.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned, US consumers wanted brands to provide paid leave for women’s health issues – not just share content.

Recognizing responsibility

When employees feel that they can bring their whole selves to work without fear of judgment or discrimination, they are more likely to feel valued, engaged, and connected to their work and colleagues. In turn, this can lead to increased creativity, productivity, and innovation, as well as a more positive and inclusive workplace culture.

It's important for companies to recognize their responsibilities to foster an environment that encourages and supports authenticity, and recognizes the value and contribution of each individual, regardless of their background, identity, or perspective.

47% of Americans say poor treatment of staff would discourage them from buying from a brand. Meanwhile, 29% of Gen Z and millennials want a working environment that makes them feel like they’re contributing to society.

Reframe how to foster inclusion

Brands need to think long-term. It's important to recognize that creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace is not a one-time task or a quick fix. Rather, it is an ongoing process that requires continuous reflection, evaluation, and improvement.

Companies must be willing to invest time, effort and resources into understanding their employees' unique needs and experiences, as well as acknowledging and addressing any biases or barriers within their organization.

In February 2023, the Ad Council’s Elise James-DeCruise spoke on this topic in GWI’s Connecting the dots webinar. Alongside Snap, Pinterest and Reddit, Elise discussed the commitments that brands need to make to create inclusive workplaces that reflect the identities and values of employees.

"As brands, there is a responsibility and moral obligation for that matter to uphold diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging commitments, so that everyone can feel seen, heard and a part of the experience." – Elise James-DeCruise, Chief Equity Officer, the Ad Council

In 2023, brands should put purpose into practice. Those that use data to continue measuring progress, and who understand what’s truly important to consumers will succeed, and those that don’t risk being left behind.


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