Australians want brands to do good, but avoid politics

By AdNews | 6 May 2024
Catherine King, Carl Rhodes, Azure Antoinette and Adam Ballesty.

Australians now expect brands to do good.

Leo Burnett Australia has released part one of The Good Study 2024 in partnership with UTS Business School and Zenith Australia.

The study found that while Australians overwhelmingly agree it’s important for brands to do some form of good in the world (96% vs. 88% in 2022), only 39% believe they should take a position on social and political issues.

Half of Australians (50%) would boycott a brand over its position in current wars and conflicts. The Good Study was launched in 2022 to provide business leaders with new data on the topic of “brand good”, as ESG continues to climb up the corporate agenda.

From brand activism to social impact, the potential for brands to positively change the world has dominated corporate discourse in recent years, reflecting evolving expectations that consumers have of businesses and brands.

The topic is increasingly mired with complexity and confusion, particularly given 66% of Australians now believe the nation is polarised.

Further insights from the 2024 Good Study include: Good is now an expectation – 96% of Australians believe it’s important for brands to do some form of good in the world; and 57% of Australians try their best to avoid brands that are not doing good. 

Generational divide – Boomers more likely to help others even if they have differing beliefs: 81% of Boomers said they would help someone in need even if they strongly disagree with their point of view, compared to only 65% of Gen Z.

Almost all (95%) of Boomers believe all Australians deserved a fair go even if they had different political and religious beliefs, compared to 79% of Gen Z o Gen Z (42%) are more likely to actively support brands getting involved in conflicts and wars if they are aligned to their beliefs. This is compared to 20% of Boomers. 

Australians believe our governments and the media are responsible for creating a more polarised nation. The federal government is held most accountable (60%), followed by the media (55%), then State Governments (49%).

This polarisation could explain the widespread increase in support for actions that unite us: Efforts that create social togetherness 73% (+39% from 2022), actively stopping the poor treatment of marginalised communities 77% (+34% from 2022), supporting First Nations Australians 60% (+31% from 2022) and investing in the local community 83% (+29% from 2022).

Australia’s top three demonstrations of brand good are financially-related business behaviours. 94% of Australians want brands to pay employees and suppliers fairly, while 92% of Australians want businesses to provide stable and fair employment. 91% of Australians want brands to pay the appropriate taxes in Australia.

UTS Business School Dean Carl Rhodes said Australians want to buy from good companies.

"Sadly, they also believe that big businesses are failing at this. Why? Because brands are focussing on the wrong issues. Australians believe that a good company is one that pays employees and suppliers fairly, offers stable employment and pays their fair share of tax. Companies that have the receipts to show that they do this have the real advantage," he said.

"This report provides evidence-based intelligence to enable businesses to make the right decision when it comes to demands of brand activism, social impact and corporate purpose.”

Leo Burnett Australia’s chief strategy officer Catherine King said The Good Study aims to offer data-driven direction and to foster ethically-minded debate that leaders can harness to pave a positive way forward.

"Reflecting this, each edition tightens our understanding of this evolving topic. The first study broadened our lens to show that financial acts of equity and fairness resonate most with Australians. This year, our lens contracts to guide brands away from political matters, unless it aligns with a company purpose," she said.

"Business leaders need to know where their customers stand and be aware of any generational divides given our research shows they can be quite significant.

“When done right, doing good offers a valuable business lever, with potential to create brand differentiation and shape behaviour, from consideration, through to purchase across all generations. Given this, our research is supplemented by a five question checklist that every business and brand executive should ask before embarking on a new path of perceived social good.”

The online quantitative and qualitative research was carried out via the Zenith Imagine Consumer Panel. The survey was conducted January 10-14, 2024, with a sample size: n=1,033 and nationally representative of Australians aged 18+ based on age, gender and location.

The qualitative component of the study was conducted April 4-6, 2024, with a nationally representative sample, n=500.

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