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South Africans Want Brands to Speak Up but Cynicism Remains - WE Study

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South Africans want brands to speak up on societal issues, but they’re cynical around approaches, finds WE study.

75% of South African consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand if it takes a lead in addressing important societal issues. But 54% agree brands aren’t yet delivering, believing they’re only taking a stance on issues to try and sell more.

These findings are from the WE Communications 2021 Brands in Motion study. The global study, which has surveyed over 85,000 consumers and B2B decision makers since 2017, this year features responses from 8,353 respondents, across eight markets, including South Africa. It shows that expectations on brands are rising every year — particularly to create stability in uncertain times.

There is no doubt about it that brands face a tough challenge today. On the one hand, they’re expected to stand up to stand out and win consumer and employee loyalty. On the other, consumers are increasingly sceptical around motivations — and won’t hesitate to call brands out for insincerity.

In fact, 35% of local consumers, particularly millennials, still believe that it is not the role of brands to comment or act on societal issues at all.

So how do brands bridge this disconnect, weaving purpose into business objectives while getting authenticity right? According to the study, respondents want to see:

·         Long-term investment to a single cause: 66% of South African respondents want to see brands make multi-year investments toward a single issue (versus 34% who prefer brands investing in different issues). However, brands should remain open to change and re-assess their corporate policies at least every six months.

·         Engagement with employees: Brands shouldn’t make investment decisions alone. 93% believe brands have a moral obligation to engage with societal issues when it impacts their employees — and so brands should collaborate with them when deciding what issues to address.

·         Local focus: 53% of South African respondents want brands to be involved in making local communities better (up from 44% in 2019). Key issues include improving education and healthcare access, employee wellbeing (physical, mental, financial), employment, and inequality.

·         A clear, sustained message: 94% believe brands should be clear on what they stand for. And to be considered a leading voice, respondents believe brands should communicate or act on issues almost constantly (47%).

·         Senior executives speaking up: Respondents agree that senior executives should communicate their personal stance on societal issues at least every one to three months, especially in the media (television interviews, social media etc.).

We’ve seen brands be ruthlessly called out for jumping on the bandwagon or running misguided campaigns in efforts to take a stance. What this study shows is that purpose is now a must-have, but brands will need to ditch general pledges and rushed attempts, and instead take brave, bold action, supported by sustained executive communications. Not every consumer will approve, but brands that ground their statements in long-term, quantifiable action will rise above the competition.

For more information on the Brands in Motion study, visit: Brands in Motion: The Bravery Mandate | WE Communications (