We have been discussing shareholder and consumer opposition to companies like Disney and BudLight tying their brands to social agendas and political questions. Now a Gallup survey shows that public support for these companies is continuing to fall, even among Democrats who still overall favor corporate messaging on social and political issues. Only 41 percent now approve of such corporate campaigns. However, neither public support nor sales were the driving forces behind these campaigns.
The support for these corporate campaigns has dropped another seven percentage points since the last survey. Given the political alignment of companies like Disney, it is not surprising that they receive their greatest support among Democrats who would likely change their views if companies began to adopt opposing views. Currently 62% of Democrats believe businesses should take a public stance on current events. That is down from 75% just a year ago. Only 17% of Republicans and 36% of independents favor these corporate campaigns.
Yet, even with the drop, these companies knew beforehand that roughly half of their consumer base opposed their entry into social and political messaging. Indeed, after BudLight imploded over its promotion featuring transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney, other companies boldly moved forward with their own controversial commercials including shaving company Braun, clothing company North Face, shoe company Nike, and jeans company Levi’s.
Disney, however, shows how resistant executives can be to consumer backlash. For years, Disney’s controversial movies and policies have driven away many families — and reduced profits. Now, CEO Robert Iger is saying that he wants to “quiet the noise” with the company’s fight with Florida and take a less controversial public position.
Yet, earlier this year, I wrote that Disney would ultimately have to back down in a fight that it could not win in the long run. Instead, Iger moved aggressively against the state and threatened to pull out of major projects. At the same time, the company moved ahead with controversial retakes on classic movies. Revenues at the company have continued to fall and layoffs increased. Now, Iger apparently has had enough — at least in the fight with Florida.
Indeed, some executives appear to dislike their base. Alissa Heinerscheid, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, appears to have cost the company billions after pledging to drop Bud Light’s “fratty reputation and embrace inclusivity.”
She certainly succeeded in changing the entire view of the brand in less than a year on the job. Heinerscheid knew that the brand image sells the beer. That image is now unpalatable for many consumers. The social value of these campaigns is lost if consumers reject beer with the branding message.
The Gallup poll again raises the question of who these companies are selling to. Like many media outlets that have written off half of the country, these campaigns are slashing the market for products in order for companies to sell political or social positions. Even many Democrats now want companies to get back to just selling their products and stay out of politics.
The legal question, again, is whether shareholders have a claim to demand an accounting from the management over such campaigns.