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The Rise of the Citizen Consumer

(Nov. 9, 2010) Americans expect significant involvement from business to tackle social issues, according to a new study. Nearly two-thirds of Americans feel that it is no longer enough for corporations to simply give money away to good causes, they need to integrate them into their day-to-day business. 

Eighty-seven percent of Americans believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society's interests as on those of business.  A full eighty percent feel that corporations are in a uniquely powerful position to make a positive impact on good causes.

"Cause related-marketing, as we know it, is dead," said Carol Cone, managing director, Brand & Corporate Citizenship at Edelman, a public relations firm, in a press release. "Purpose must now be engrained into the core of a company or brand's proposition. It is no longer enough to slap a ribbon on a product.  It must be authentic, long-term and participatory."

"Americans are seeking deeper involvement in social issues and expect brands and companies to provide various means of engagement," she continued. "We call this the rise of the ‘citizen consumer'."

Consumers' expectation of government to do the most for good causes has declined dramatically since 2009, while their expectation of "people like me" has jumped, according to Edelman's 2010 GoodPurpose study. Thirty percent of U.S. consumers now believe that the government should be doing the most to support good causes, down 11 points from 2009 - while 23 percent believe that "people like me" should be doing the most, up 8 points from last year.  Seventy-four percent believe brands and consumers could do more to support good causes by working together.

Purpose is Now the "5th P" in Marketing

For four years in a row, U.S. consumers rank purpose as significantly more important than design/innovation or brand loyalty as a purchase trigger when quality and price are the same.  Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans cite social purpose as the number one deciding factor, while twenty-seven percent cite loyalty to the brand and twenty-six percent cite design or innovation when quality and price are the same.          

"Purpose is now the fifth P of marketing.  It's a vital addition to the age-old marketing mix of product, price, place, and promotion," said Mitch Markson, chief creative officer, Edelman. "Purpose allows brands to have a deeper level of engagement with their consumers-and it also allows consumers to put their own mark on brand marketing by collaborating with brands to tackle important social issues."

Despite the prolonged recession, nearly three out of four Americans (72 percent) report that they are more likely to give their business to a company that has fair prices and supports good cause than to a company that provides deep discounts but does not contribute to good causes.  In fact, more than half of consumers say that they are willing to pay more for a product that donates a portion of its profits to a good cause.  

Citizens in Emerging Markets Surge Ahead

While American consumers remain highly involved in supporting good causes, they are now outpaced by a surge of citizen consumerism in the emerging markets.  Consumers in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico are more likely than Americans to purchase and promote brands that support good causes.  They also demonstrate higher expectations of brands to support good causes.  Approximately 8 in 10 consumers in the emerging markets (Brazil: 87 percent, Mexico: 85 percent, China and India: 79 percent) expect brands to do something to support a good cause, while only sixty-three percent of Americans agree.

"Brazil, China, India and Mexico have reached a tipping point in terms of economic development and their consumers no longer need to make trade-offs," said Cone. "In emerging markets, the dramatic rise of ‘the citizen consumer' has happened so quickly because battles over societal issues like natural resources and human rights have taken place right in their backyards. They understand purpose and want it to be at the center of their lives and their everyday interactions with brands."

Additional Findings

The study measured American consumer views on environmental causes.

  • 78 percent of American consumers believe government and business need to work together more closely to ensure the environment is protected
  • 75 percent of Americans believe projects that protect and sustain the environment can help grow the economy
  • More than two-thirds (67 percent) would support legislation that requires corporation to meet certain environmental standards even it if would negatively impact a corporations profits.
  • More than half (59 percent) would support legislation that requires government to fund partnerships between public and private organizations to help protect the environment.

Consumers say they approve of companies and product sales supporting charitable causes.

  • More than one-third of Americans (34 percent) say they would prefer to receive a donation to a good cause as a gift rather than an item that a friend had picked out "knowing that you would like it."
  • 79 percent of Americans think it is OK for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time
  • When asked which they would be more likely to buy: a product or a product that donates a portion of its profits to a good cause but costs more:
    • A beverage: 62 percent would pay 5 percent more (56 percent globally); 61 percent would pay 10 percent more (51 percent globally)
    • A piece of clothing: 58 percent would pay 5 percent more (51 percent globally); 54 percent would pay 10 percent more (45 percent globally)
    • A household appliance: 52 percent would pay 5 percent more (47 percent globally); 46 percent would pay 10 percent more (41 percent globally)

About the Study

The 2010 GoodPurpose study was conducted by the StrategyOne and consisted of 20-minute interviews in 13 countries among 7,259 adults. Online interviews were conducted in Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, UAE, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For more information, visit www.goodpurposecommunity.com.



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