NEW YORK — Politics’ influence on consumer/brand relationships continues to grow, with an increase in buyers making decisions based on their politics — and presumption that companies are doing the same, according to the latest Edelman Brand Trust Report.

The online survey of 15,000 individuals in 15 countries (Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and South Korea) found that 78% of respondents believe brands are actively engaging in political or politically motivated actions and are making their purchasing decisions accordingly.  This perception extends to seemingly innocuous practices like influencer selection, social media platform preference, and even voter encouragement initiatives.

The report also highlights the growing pressure on brands to take a stand. Seventy-one percent of respondents believe brands must pick a side on social issues, while 51% interpret brand silence as a tacit admission of inaction or worse, something to hide.  In addition, 71% say that brands have to take positions on issues given consumer expectations.

Brands, however, face risks in doing so, as 60% of respondents (up two points from last year) say they buy or avoid brands based on their personal politics. One in three people were boycotting brands that support one side or another in the Israel-Hamas war at the time of the survey was conducted, April 13-24.

A “huge spike” in nationalism is also upending consumers’ relationships with brands, particularly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, largely due to the Israel-Hamas war. More than 60% of respondents in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, and UAE reported boycotting brands that support a side in the conflict.

Additionally, nearly 80% of respondents said they won’t buy brands that are headquartered in particular countries. Three out of four respondents in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and India said they were buying more domestic vs. foreign brands than they were a year ago.

The study found the US market presents a unique challenge. While a majority on both sides of the aisle (51% Republicans and 58% Democrats) agree brands can be forces for positive change, their priorities diverge. Republicans favor brand action on job creation, especially fair pay and retraining, while Democrats prioritize climate change, diversity, and ending racism.  Two-thirds of Democrats are more likely to buy brands that commit to ending racism.

Eighty-four percent of global consumers say that they need to share values with a brand to buy it. Respondents also are much more likely to say brands should do more when it comes to societal issues including climate (five to one), fair pay (four to one) and diversity (two to one).

Findings also suggest that companies need to look beyond advertising to convince consumers of the good they are doing; respondents said they are most likely to find out about a brand’s positive impact on society through the news media.

Edelman CEO Richard Edelman wrote in an essay excerpted here:

Marketers have long known that to reach people you need to tailor your message to age, gender, income, and other demographics. But today, political orientation is just as central to how people think of products. Consumers are buying or boycotting to express their political power. The anti-woke movement is gaining momentum, pressuring brands to walk away from purpose or issues advocacy. The Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia conflicts have reignited nationalism and led to adoption of local brands as a means of protest. Even if you do not seek out political issues, politics will come and find you. It’s not that brands have changed. Society has.

The immediate reaction by marketers might be to put your head down and let the storm pass. That would be exactly the wrong strategy. The question is not how to avoid politics but how to navigate the present complexity to your advantage. Not every brand needs to have an impact or purpose initiative but consider how politicization can abruptly color consumer perceptions.

With 50 elections and over half of the world’s population going to the polls, and nearly 700 doing so in India and Mexico in just the last week, establishing tighter yellow lines for marketing campaigns for each brand’s permission space is a necessity. Recognize the inherent overlap of brand and corporate reputation (McDonald’s issues in the Middle East stemming from conflict in Gaza). Compete as multi-local as well multinational by demonstrating positive local impact and cultural sensitivity (Modelo campaign lauding work ethic of Hispanics in the US). Withstand possible political blowback by staying true to your core competences (Dove campaign to keep young females in sports). Prioritize your core consumer, recognizing the importance of brand to personal identity (Ikea’s campaign to encourage recycling of furniture through Buyback Friday). Most of all, stand your ground because marketing matters. Brands are playing an essential role in a society riven with fears, providing hope and inspiration for the future.