Politics increasingly driving consumers’ buying decisions, study shows

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Consumers across the globe are increasingly making buying decisions based on their political views, with a sharp rise in brand nationalism since last year, according to new research.

The “Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brands and Politics” released Thursday showed an uptick in politically-driven buying, with 60% of 15,000 respondents worldwide saying they buy, choose or avoid brands based on their politics, an increase of 2% from last year.

But the study found a huge spike in brand nationalism, particularly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, which the researchers said can be directly attributed to the war between Israel and Hamas. More than one in three people polled said they are boycotting brands that support a side in that conflict. 

Edelman CEO Richard Edelman told FOX Business in an interview that the surge in brand nationalism is global, with 80% of respondents saying they are boycotting brands from specific countries in one way or another. Beyond the Israel-Hamas war, he pointed to U.S. tensions with China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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“I think it’s a cumulative effect,” Edelman said, arguing, “in a way,” it shows “globalization going backwards.”

The study showed that brands are seen as political, with 78% saying they feel brands are doing things they consider to be political or politically motivated, such as using certain social media platforms or hiring certain influencers.

Edelman called the U.S. “the poster child for brands needing to find their way through the hazardous minefield.”

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The research found majorities of both parties — 51% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats — agree that brands are effective agents of positive change.

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Republicans showed a strong consensus that brands should double down on jobs, specifically fair pay and retraining. Democrats, meanwhile, are generally in favor of brand action on issues, particularly on climate, fair pay and diversity, with two-thirds of Democrats more likely to buy brands that commit to ending racism. 

Independents’ responses were mixed. As a group, they were strongly in favor of action on climate but tepid on diversity and public health, according to the findings.

More than half of respondents (51%) say that if a brand doesn’t communicate its actions to address societal issues, they assume it’s doing nothing or hiding something, and 71% said that in the face of pressure to take a side on issues, brands must take a position.  

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Edelman said the findings show the reality that politics is the newest aspect of brand marketing and that people are making choices of brands based on their political views, as well as their income, gender, neighborhood or education.

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He argues that the question is not how to avoid politics, but how a brand can navigate the present environment to its advantage.

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“I don’t think it’s an option for brands to put their heads down. I think it’s a moment where brands are very important in our society as a means of optimism and aspiration, of satisfaction,” Edelman said.

“We are counting on our brands towards a better life, and the smart brand will play into that opportunity and show people a way forward that’s unifying and inspirational.”

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