SYDNEY: A majority of Australians expect brands to take a stand on important issues, according to research which describes the shift in consumer mindset over the past decade as the ‘Unilever effect’.

That is in reference to the actions of Paul Polman, who, since being appointed CEO of the FMCG giant in 2009, has sought to instil purpose-driven marketing at the core of its brands, a process that is now moving into brand activism (see WARC’s report: Unilever steps up from marketing purpose to brand activism.)

A study by PR agency WE Buchan, based on interviews with more than 4,500 consumers, showed that more than two thirds (68%) of Australians either ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ agreed that they expect brands to take a stand on important issues – particularly if that issue is in direct conflict with an organisation’s core values.

Whether or not they do so can be an important factor in purchasing decisions – almost on the same level as the quality of the product or service.

In a related finding, almost three quarters of respondents would readily publicly shame a brand or industry when it is at fault, even if they had previously loved them.

“This only makes it more pertinent for brands to build stronger emotional connections with consumers to maintain customer loyalty,” WE Buchan said.

And consumers appear open to that idea, since more than 80% of respondents believed that brands have the capacity to provide stability in times of uncertainty.

At the same time, however, stability must not result in complacency: innovation, or the perception of innovation, was closely linked to positive brand outcomes such as being loved and being seen to promote the common good.

Data sourced from WE Buchan; additional content by WARC staff