It May Be The Right Thing To Do, But Is It Authentic?

By Jesse Epstein

When Brands Take a Stand, Are They Being Authentic to Who They Are And Their Brand?

Over the past few months, we have seen several brands boycotting Russia over their invasion of Ukraine.  Brands like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and General Electric have all pulled out of the largest Eastern European economy. Putin’s aggression has unified Coca-Cola and Pepsi, both of whom have left. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express? All gone.  It appears every company with a presence in the West has realized that it’s good for business to stand with Ukraine and against Russia.

Are Brands Being Authentic in Times of Crisis?

Several clients, colleagues, and friends have asked, “well, this is the prime example of a company being authentic, right?”  The initial response was of course to think that, yes, this is an example of these brands being authentic and consumers would likely see it as such.  According to our Brand Authenticity research, we’ve seen that being “Explicitly Moral” is one of the key pillars that creates an authentic brand.

Explicitly moral

Moral brands have a compass that guides their actions and defines who they are. Consumers place the highest value on this pillar because they can count on these brands to do the right thing.

While making drastic moves in times of crisis may appear to satisfy one of the key pillars of being Explicitly Moral, there’s a subtle but important difference between a brand acting authentically and a brand merely making a smart business decision. The implications of both approaches can be different in the connections brands make with their consumers.  

Specifically, this is not to say that any of these brands pulling out of Russia aren’t doing the right thing, but rather to simply raise the question of whether or not the actions will increase perceptions of their authenticity

Using Brand Authenticity to Evaluate your Brand

As a reminder, we learned that consumers evaluate a brand’s authenticity based on six key pillars:

  • Explicitly Moral
  • Brutally Honest
  • Unapologetically Transparent
  • Rooted in Their Values
  • Constantly Consistent
  • An Expression of Who Their Customers Are

Our research shows that brands can compel consumers to engage beyond the typical brand-customer relationship and become loyal, long-term customers through these six pillars.

How to Know if Your Next Brand Decision is Authentic?

When trying to figure out if a brand’s decision is authentic, we should ask several questions:

  • Why is the brand making this decision?
  • How does this action align with other decisions the brand has made in the past?
  • If the brand didn’t act in a similar situation in the past, why act now?
  • If the brand acted differently in a similar situation in the past, why act this way now?
  • Can the brand clearly define the rationale behind its actions?
  • Does the makeup of the brand reflect the community or communities it is trying to impact?
  • What specific brand values does this decision bring to life?
  • Are the intentions performative, or are they genuine in alignment with the progress of the brand’s direction?

Regardless of intent, there is no shame at all in brands pulling out of Russia – certainly, they should be commended for taking a stand.  But whether or not this is a decision that will check the box in the eyes of consumers and be seen as authentic to who the brand is, what it stands for, and the role it can play requires further examination.