How consumers expect brands to respond to the crisis in Ukraine

Zappi

During times of crisis, brands often wonder how to respond. Can brands continue to advertise as normal? Should they mention the crisis? Should they take a political stance? One wrong move, even when well-intentioned, can wreak havoc on a brand’s reputation.

Sadly, we find ourselves in a crisis today. We wanted to better understand how people were feeling and how they expected brands to respond, so we ran a study in five different countries to ask them (methodology details at the end). We found this data helpful so we hope it can help your brand too.

Actions speak louder than words

Consumers do not want meaningless platitudes in advertising, they want to see brands do something useful.

We see a clear picture emerge around how brands should respond. Across countries, the majority (78%) think brands should support causes that help civilians affected by the conflict. Meanwhile, only 38% believe brands should create advertising that references the crisis.

Think of UK telco leaders such as Vodafone, BT and Three — they all have demonstrated humanitarian brand leadership by quickly responding and making calls to Ukraine free.

"Given what’s happening in the world right now marketing really doesn’t matter, but there are ways brands can respond without appearing tone-deaf."

Mark Ritson. Brand Consultant & Marketing Professor

Consumers can smell the bullshit

Brands today often choose to align themselves with key issues that matter to their audiences. When done well, this can be very well-received. But it can lead some brands to wonder whether they need to talk about the political issues that matter in order to remain relevant.

This can be tricky, as these issues can vary dramatically from person to person. Only around one-third of people expected brands to talk about the political issues that mattered to them, with little difference between countries.

Also, most consumer brands aren’t front of mind when it comes to the crisis. For example, when asked which brands they recall seeing communicate about the Russia-Ukraine issue, people tended to mention brands associated with news dissemination (e.g. CNN in the US; BBC in the UK; RTL in Germany).

But is not talking about a problem worse than saying the wrong thing? Is a brand’s silence on a topic deafening?

About half of consumers agreed that it’s ok for a brand not to talk about current affairs — indicating that it’s a polarizing issue. As a note, Germans seem more inclined to expect brands to discuss current affairs, as only 39% agreed it was okay to remain silent.

Around half of those surveyed agreed that brands have a responsibility to speak up about injustice. However, it is important for brands to deeply understand an issue and how the brand could be impacted when making a statement.At times like this, it’s important to do your research and understand what’s authentic for your brand for each scenario you face.

Final thoughts

In times of crises and rapid social sentiment change, it takes good judgment and good data to understand what’s appropriate and authentic for your brand.

Taking meaningful action or having a point of view needs to come from the right motivation, i.e. the right thing to do. Being seen as exploiting the situation for commercial success is something to avoid.

As always, it’s important to know your consumers, know your brand and the environment it’s operating in to respond in a way that feels authentic to avoid any missteps.

Methodology

We surveyed a nationally representative audience of adults over 18 via the Zappi platform. Our sample size was 400 in each of the five countries we conducted the survey: US, UK, Germany, Canada and Singapore. Fieldwork took place on March 1-2, 2022.

We asked questions in two main topic areas: 1) how consumers expect brands to respond to crises and political issues in general and 2) how consumers expect brands to respond to the Ukrainian conflict today.