In earlier articles, I asked whether consumers will back up brands that makes decisions “because it’s the right thing to do” over pure profit motives.
My bet is that these decisions will be rewarded by consumers as it become more normal for companies to make bold pro-health and pro-environmental choices. Here are five recent examples that point positively in that direction.
1. On April 1, Avon announced that it will stop using the antibacterial chemical triclosan in its products “based on the preferences expressed by some of our customers.” This move isn’t that surprising, since triclosan is already on the phase-out list for Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. But nonetheless, it’s a statement that some customers’ voices matter enough to stop selling products that other customers might still want to buy.
2. Two days later, on April 3, Nabisco’s graham cracker brand Honey Maid released a video called “Love” as a response to anti-gay comments about the brand’s March 2014 “This is Wholesome” commercial. That commercial, which shows gay and multi-racial families, had been blasted by conservative group One Million Moms as “promoting sin.”
We don’t know yet how the “Love” response video will impact sales. But with 3.5 million views and counting, I predict a graham cracker bump. On Twitter, the #thisiswholesome feed was awash with feel-good comments about wanting to make s’mores and one photo showing empty shelves.
3. Also on April 3, Mozilla’s new CEO Brendan Eich resigned after only two weeks on the job. He faced pressure to do so after online protests and a brief boycott campaign by OKCupid for his support of California’s anti-gay marriage law, Proposition 8, including a $1000 donation Eich made to the campaign in 2008. The OKCupid boycott caught eyeballs, but the real story, in my view, was about talent war pressure.
You can see that in Mozilla’s official corporate apology for Eich’s brief appointment, which cites an “organizational culture” that values “equality for all.” In other words, the most in-demand people want the best workplace. That increasingly assumes pro-equality and pro-environment policies.
The Eich resignation story is also notable for how fast it happened: his resignation was an about-face from his weather-the-storm stance just days earlier.
4. Then on April 6, restaurant brand Chili’s announced that it was withdrawing support for an autism-awareness group’s fundraiser, scheduled for the next day. Chili’s said it cancelled the event “based on feedback we heard from guests.” Others have noted that the autism awareness group’s website includes questionable statements about vaccination safety and the causes of autism. By responding fast to customer feedback, on a Sunday no less, Chili’s was able to extinguish a volatile public relations situation with a minimum of lost face.
5. And finally, on April 8, California lawmakers considered the so-called “Blackfish bill” that would ban keeping orcas in captivity. State assembly member Richard Bloom says that he wrote the bill after seeing the film Blackfish. Months of positive citizen support on social media surely helped, too.
The April 8 hearing attracted hundreds of people, but after testimony from the bill’s supporters and opponents, the committee declined to take up a vote. Instead, they sent the bill for further study, a process that could take up to a year.
For now, SeaWorld’s orca shows will go on as scheduled. I’m curious about what anti-captivity campaigners will do next, and if they will be able to influence ticket sales.
Together, what the first four examples show is that being a good business is good for sales. When customers speak up, and brands respond, everyone wins. Most of the time, at least.
That’s because what’s good for SeaWorld visitors, and good for sales, and good for California jobs, is really bad for these animals. Keeping captive orcas has been compared to spending one’s whole life in a small bathroom. SeaWorld has a huge opportunity here to be a world leader for truly responsible oceanic stewardship. It’s up to the company’s leadership to imagine — and create — that reality for its next generation of guests.
They won’t have to do it alone. As more customers speak up, there will come a day when SeaWorld says, “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping.” I plan to be a customer who supports them in that decision.