Corporate Political Advocacy

A fascinating question for corporations is how much they should get involved in politics. It can be hard to avoid politics sometimes; it just involves some companies by accident. I have no inside knowledge but I doubt Delta really had an explicitly pro-gun policy when they made an arrangement with the NRA. To them this was just a deal with a large membership group. Then the connection to the NRA became controversial and Delta found itself in a political situation. Keeping the relationship with the NRA would be a political statement as would breaking with the NRA. Other companies, notable Nike, have been more explicit in seeking out controversy.

Chris Hydock, Neeru Paharia and T.J. Weber wrote a review piece on Corporate Political Advocacy (CPA) and the consumer reaction to this. They contrast CPA with corporate social responsibility (CSR). “Though CSR may induce varying levels of support, it is not generally seen as divisive. In contrast, the recent wave of CPA is divisive; it seems to invite both opposition and support.” (Hydock, Paharia, and Weber, 2019). Looking at the literature they recognize that there can be a gap between what consumers say and what they do. Still they suggest that “…at least some portion of the population is likely to consider a brand’s political positions when making purchases…” (Hydock, Paharia, and Weber, 2019).

They look at boycotts (avoiding companies you disagree with) and buycotts (active purchasing from an agreeable company). While Liberals tend to do more of them, Conservatives also boycott and buycott. The authors note that: “At the individual level, consumers’ likelihood of participating in boycotts is a function of their perception the boycott will succeed, their susceptibility to social norms, and the costs they may incur” (Hydock, Paharia, and Weber, 2019). Clearly if you want a boycott to work you need to appeal to the right people, make it relatively low cost, and, critically, ensure consumers think it will work.

When discussing the future the authors wonder what is the role of such commercial actions, e.g., boycotts, compared to more traditional political, actions, e.g., voting. Do any consumer see boycotts as enough, and so do not bother engaging more traditionally in politics?

I expect to see more activity, both commercial actions and academic research, in this area. If a consumer can signal they oppose systemic racism while buying some nice sneakers you can see why that has appeal. Often I think companies have been too cautious embracing contentious issues. Good marketing can involve alienating some potential customers to endear yourselves to others, so why not support a good cause at the same time?

Read: Chris Hydock, Neeru Paharia, and T. J. Weber (2019) The Consumer Response to Corporate Political Advocacy: a Review and Future Directions, Customer Needs and Solutions, December 2019, Volume 6, Issue 3–4, pp 76–83