Consumers Expect the Brands they Support to be Socially Responsible

Getting involved in partisan politics goes too far

WASHINGTON--()--Seventy percent of consumers want to know what the brands they support are doing to address social and environmental issues and 46% pay close attention to a brand’s social responsibility efforts when they buy a product, according to a new survey released today by Markstein, an integrated communications agency, and Certus Insights, a public opinion firm.

The nationally representative online survey of 600 adults was conducted by Certus in August.

While consumers are paying attention, they also are skeptical of corporate motivations. Almost three-quarters agree that when big corporations donate to charities and help with community projects, they are doing it more to make themselves look good than to help people in need. Consumers are not always willing to take companies at their word when they say they are socially responsible –– only 9% say they believe corporate claims about social responsibility “all the time” and another 67% believe them “some of the time.”

“When it comes to social responsibility, consumers are looking for brands to show them – not just tell them – what they’re doing,” said Sheila McLean, president of Markstein, mid-Atlantic. “Navigating these expectations is not easy. Brands need a much deeper understanding of their customers’ values as they chart their own social responsibility course. They need to demonstrate real impact over time.”

Consumers are almost evenly divided over whether corporations should get involved in partisan politics, with 54% of respondents agreeing that “a company’s social responsibility goes too far when (it) gets involved in partisan politics.”

Many Americans view corporate social activism as skewing Democratic. Forty percent of Americans surveyed say when they hear that a company is socially responsible, they guess that the company leans to the Democratic side of the political spectrum, compared to 13% who assume it leans to the Republican side. Many consumers believe a company leans Democratic when it is active on issues related to poverty and employment opportunities (43%), the “Me Too” movement (50%), social justice and equality issues (55%), and environmental and sustainability issues (48%).

The survey found generational differences, with millennials more likely than older and younger generations to say the companies they do business with should support environmental initiatives all the time, even if it means raising prices (44% of millennials versus 28% of Generation X and 35% of baby boomers).

“Millennials continue to be more focused on social and environmental issues than younger and older consumers,” McLean said. “Millennial values will become more and more important as their purchasing power grows. By next year, millennials will represent 30% of all retail sales – an estimated $1.4 trillion a year.”

Older generations are more inclined to look to individuals to drive social change – 34% of baby boomers versus 17% of millennials, who were more likely to cite large corporations and small businesses (18%).

About Markstein

Markstein, an integrated communications agency, blends art and science to craft custom solutions to business challenges. Our insights-driven partnership model is built on extensive diagnosis, creative strategies and vigilant performance measurement. While our approach enables our partners to achieve their goals, our inspiration lies in the belief that helping solve complex problems, be it business, legislative or societal, can change the world for the better. Markstein was founded in 2003 and serves clients nationwide from its Birmingham, Alabama, and Washington, D.C. offices. To learn more visit

About Certus

Certus Insights is a full-service research firm based in the Washington, D.C. area. We are industry-leading experts in helping clients answer important strategical and tactical questions through quantitative, qualitative, and analytical methods. Certus Insights are experts in public opinion, message development, reputation, media share of voice, social media analytics, elite opinion makers, and member/employee research. To learn more visit


Lyndsey Schaeffer

Release Summary

According to a new survey, 70% of consumers want to know what brands are doing to address social and environmental issues.


Lyndsey Schaeffer