SB'24 San Diego is open for registration. Register early and save!

Marketing and Comms
Politics and Purpose:
The US Consumer Response to Purpose-Driven Marketing Across the Political Spectrum

How does identifying with a certain political party, generation or minority group influence whether consumers think more highly or more disapprovingly of a brand taking on a cause? Here is what we learned.

As a marketer, given the high drama of the US midterm elections this November, and the recent criticism of “woke marketing” by some activists and politicians, I wanted to investigate how consumers felt about brands engaging in purpose-driven marketing. Purpose-driven marketing — also known as “sustainability marketing” or “social impact marketing” — speaks to a brand’s attempt to engage its consumers on a social or environmental issue. I wondered: Does identifying with a certain political party influence whether consumers think more highly or more disapprovingly of a brand taking on a cause?

To find out, I turned to data gathered from consumers’ reactions to about 50 purpose-driven advertising campaigns tested with over 25,000 consumers in the last two years through the Sustainable Brands®’ (SB) Ad Sustainability Awareness Platform (ASAP) insights tool. Developed in 2020 when several global brands came together under the SB Brands for Good initiative, the ASAP tool was designed to create a way to measure (across industries and with a standardized set of metrics) how effective purpose-driven advertising campaigns were in driving consumer behavior change around environmental and social issues. These issues all ladder up to Brands for Good’s Nine Sustainable Behaviors (for more information on the Behaviors, see Exhibit A at the end of this article), which have been identified as the most impactful behaviors that brands and consumers can take together to create positive change. But in addition to an effectiveness score, the tool also asked a simple question: “After seeing the ad, how would you rate your opinion of the brand?”

Here is what we learned:

1. Democrats have a significantly more favorable opinion of a brand after seeing its sustainability campaign, over Republicans and Independents.

71 percent of Democrats said they have a “somewhat more favorable” or a “much more favorable” opinion of a brand after seeing its purpose-driven ad, packaging or message. This is a statistically significant percentage over the opinion scores of Republicans and Independents. However, over half of both Republicans and Independents said they too had a favorable opinion of a brand after seeing its sustainability-focused ad. Therefore, at an aggregate level, it does not matter which political party one associates with — people are more likely than not to think more highly of a brand that is trying to make a positive impact in the world.

(Red letters indicate where the scores are statistically significant in relation to another group.)

2. There are similarities and differences in the sustainability issues Democrats and Republicans most care about.

The ASAP tool also enables marketers to designate a specific sustainable behavior that their ads have been designed to drive. Behaviors listed below such as “Be Energy Smart” and “Support Women & Girls” allow campaigns to be analyzed against campaigns in those selected environmental or social behaviors.

The data show that both Democrats and Republicans give a high favorability score to the “Go Circular” sustainable behavior (“Go Circular” is shorthand for recycling or supporting products made with recycled content). Democrats also give a high favorability score to brands addressing the “Support Women & Girls” behavior; and Republicans give their highest favorability score to “Reduce Water & Food Waste.”

3. US women like seeing brands that support women.

Both Democrat and Republican women give their highest favorability scores to campaigns that “Support Women and Girls” and “Go Circular.”

After looking at these scores from a political viewpoint, it was encouraging to see that regardless of affiliation, US men and women viewed ads that took on purposeful issues favorably.

Therefore, I decided to dig into the data a bit more to see what other interesting insights might be uncovered in consumer groupings around generational cohort, income and race. I thought that in addition to the Favorability score, I would now also review the Ad Effectiveness score. The Brands for Good collective determined four metrics they would use as indicators for advertising effectiveness:

  1. Influence: The ad’s ability to give the consumer a different view or a better understanding of the sustainable behavior

  2. Credibility: The ad’s ability to make the consumer think the product or brand is credible in addressing the sustainable behavior

  3. Actionability: How well the ad encourages the consumer to act on the sustainable behavior

  4. Talkability: The level of interest from the consumer to share the ad with his/her personal network

Consumers were asked if they Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree or Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree with the ad’s strength on each of those four metrics; and those scores were combined to give the ad an overall Ad Effectiveness score.

Here is what we learned about the effectiveness of our purpose-driven ads:

4. Sustainability campaigns are currently most resonating with Millennials.

Millennials are offering up the highest Ad Effectiveness scores, significantly higher than the scores given by other cohorts. Gen X and Gen Z follow, but Boomers and the Silent Generation are averaging scores less than 60. This begs the question: Are we as marketers not doing enough to connect with older demographics on sustainability?

5. When looking across income brackets, there is not much variation in Ad Effectiveness scores; and there is only a slightly higher Favorability score amongst wealthier consumers.

Consumers in the $100k-per-household income bracket gave statistically higher Favorability scores versus consumers in the lowest income bracket after seeing a brand’s sustainability-focused ad.

6. Targeted cohorts appreciate a brand’s effort to reach them; though with the Hispanic cohort, there is room to improve ad effectiveness.

One of the great aspects of the tool is an ability to ask a sub-group or unique cohort their opinion of the ad to compare it to the general population of respondents. This is helpful so when marketers create ads targeted towards groups such as women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and Black and Hispanic Americans, we can see if the ads connect with them. In the current research results, we see Black, Hispanic and LGBTQIA+ cohorts exceed Gen Pop (the general population) in their opinion of brands who create purpose-driven marketing campaigns targeted with them in mind.

But according to the Effectiveness score, marketers are falling short with the Hispanic cohort — which creates an opportunity. It seems that while Hispanics are giving brands credit for trying with Favorability scores in line with Gen Pop scores, Hispanics apparently see opportunity to get stronger when it comes to Influence, Credibility, Actionability, and Talkability with campaigns intended with them in mind.

7. Environmentally focused ads score higher on Effectiveness than socially focused ads.

Ad Effectiveness Scores are highest for the campaigns focused on “Go Circular” and “Reduce Water & Food Waste.” These environmentally focused campaigns are scoring significantly higher than campaigns focused on social issues such as “Supporting Women & Girls,” “Expanding Equity & Opportunity” and “Show Up.”

What are the implications from this research for the marketing industry?

  1. We can use the insights of this research to create strategic media plans that are responsible and take on a social impact lens. At a minimum, our ads need to be accurate, honest and respectful — this is a basic requirement. But by understanding our target consumers, we can not only create content that resonates with them and helps them feel seen; we can also leverage media’s targeting abilities to deliver our content to an audience that normally would not be exposed to it. This would be an effort to develop understanding across people of different backgrounds and help a broader audience “see another side.” Note this strategy might come with some risk if the “other side” does not agree with your point of view; it is best to prepare for this possibility.

  2. To drive creative ad effectiveness around sustainability storytelling, we should continue to focus on Influence, Credibility, Actionability and Talkability metrics. Demonstrating Influence and garnering Credibility with a campaign comes from research, engaging with partners, and spending meaningful time and resources on a cause. Creating an Actionable campaign comes from being clear on how consumers can use our products to lead more sustainable lifestyles. And Talkability, the notion that people want to share and talk about the campaign, comes from campaigns having a creative spark that surprises and delights the consumer.

  3. Given that our creative ad effectiveness scores are generally lower on socially focused behaviors than on environmentally focused behaviors, we should study how we can improve storytelling when it comes to the former.

  4. We can study how different generational cohorts connect with sustainability issues, so we can develop content that resonates with each group’s unique life stage.

If you are a marketer and would like to use SB’s ASAP tool to analyze the effectiveness of your brand’s advertising assets, you can upload your ads at or contact the Brands for Good team at [email protected]. Once an ad is submitted for testing, qualitative and quantitative results come back in less than two weeks.

While consumers are craving brands that are better for the planet, the call to action for marketers is to create sustainability marketing that is as effective at inspiring the human spirit as conventional marketing. Please consider the SB ASAP tool as a part of your toolkit to create more impactful advertising that not only helps build brand growth and drive sales, but that engages consumers on sustainability as well.

Here is more information on how data is collected in the ASAP tool:

Each marketing manager who tests his or her brand campaign gets results from surveying 500 general-population consumers. The marketing manager also has the option to survey consumers from a particular cohort or sub-group (e.g., women, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and LGBTQIA+), and pick which of SB’s Nine Sustainable Behaviors his or her ad is trying to drive change on. These behaviors are data-driven and expert-validated, developed through qualitative and quantitative research, and influenced by the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals — that brands and consumers can take together to create the most impactful positive change.

Exhibit A: The Nine Sustainable Behaviors

Source: SB Brands for Good

(Note: The behavior “Eat More Plants” is not present in this analysis given the lower level of campaigns available within the database.)