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US Attitudes Toward Brand Ethics Market Report

Everything you need to make the right decisions

Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the Attitudes Toward Brand Ethics market, and the behaviours, preferences and habits of the consumer.

Mintel has the answers you’re looking for

What are the key challenges facing the industry? Who is the consumer and what do they want? Where are the opportunities, where are the risks and what lies ahead?

Key points included

  • Deep down inside people want to be good
  • What does it mean to follow “ethical business practices?”
  • Brands need to educate consumers about sustainability

Covered in this report

Essentially, ethics are beliefs about what thoughts and actions are fundamentally “good” or “bad.” The perception of good or bad in a corporate sense depends on the responsibilities or ethical obligations that a consumer feels companies have (see Definitions). In other words, attitudes toward brand ethics are subjective and can be quite complicated. Generally, consumers want to support brands they see as ethical, especially if it does not require them to dramatically change their spending habits or behaviors.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Kristen Boesel, a leading analyst in the Lifestyles and Leisure sector, her extensive knowledge delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

About two thirds of adults say they want the brands they support to be ethical. What exactly that means is murky, but most consumers believe that brands have an obligation to not jeopardize their customers’ health or safety. About half of all consumers think companies have a responsibility to “do what’s right for the Earth, even if it’s less profitable,” but education about sustainable practices beyond simply using recycled materials may be necessary Kristen Boesel
Senior Lifestyles and Leisure Analyst

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What's included

What's included

Table of contents

Table of contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Definitions
      • Executive Summary

          • Market overview
            • Figure 1: Agreement about importance of brands following ethical business practices, October 2019
          • What does it mean to follow “ethical business practices?”
            • Figure 2: Attitudes toward corporate responsibility, October 2019
          • Deep down inside people want to be good
            • Brands need to educate consumers about sustainability
              • Figure 3: Top ways brands can best demonstrate environmental friendliness, October 2019
            • Parents
              • Figure 4: Attitudes toward brand ethics, parents vs non-parents, October 2019
            • Women
              • Figure 5: Reasons to stop buying from a brand or company, by gender, October 2019
            • Millennials and Generation Z
              • Figure 6: Reasons to stop buying from a brand or company, by generation, October 2019
            • What’s next
            • The Market – What You Need to Know

              • Brand ethics are important to two thirds of US consumers
                • Younger consumers and parents more likely to follow up
                  • Climate change can be political
                    • Companies that treat employees fairly can garner goodwill
                    • Consumer Interest in Brand Ethics

                        • Most consumers want the brands they support to be ethical
                            • Figure 7: Agreement about importance of brands following ethical business practices, October 2019
                          • Parents are especially concerned about brand ethics
                              • Figure 8: Percentage who agree it’s important for brands to follow ethical business practices, October 2019
                            • Mixed feelings on the extent of corporations’ ethical responsibilities
                                • Figure 9: Agreement companies are responsible for guiding ethical choices, October 2019
                              • Younger generations more willing to research brands’ practices
                                  • Figure 10: Agreement that it’s important to research companies’ business practices, October 2019
                              • Corporate Considerations

                                • Corporations have the same rights and protections as people
                                  • Growing wealth disparity in the US
                                    • Shrinking middle class
                                      • Figure 11: Pre-tax household income distribution, 1989 and 2016
                                    • Increasing cost of living, but a stagnant minimum wage
                                      • Shareholders vs stakeholders
                                        • Business Roundtable
                                          • B Corporations
                                            • Quantifying social impact
                                              • Debate about the responsibilities of brands vs government
                                                • Paving for Pizza
                                                  • Busch Pop Up Schop
                                                    • Patagonia leads corporations to a new era of political endorsements
                                                    • Consumer Perspectives

                                                        • Gig economy raises ethical concerns
                                                            • Figure 12: Ways brands can represent consumers’ values, March 2019
                                                          • Organized protests in New York draw attention to rideshare employees
                                                            • Spotlight: California’s AB5 legislation
                                                              • Environmental concerns can be polarizing
                                                                • Spotlight: The EPA and the National Environmental Policy Act
                                                                  • Social stigma creates barrier to earth-friendly behaviors
                                                                    • Start-ups have an advantage over bigger brands in the “ethical” space
                                                                      • Younger generations see smaller companies as more ethical
                                                                        • Figure 13: Agreement that small companies are more ethical, by generation, October 2019
                                                                      • Spotlight: TeaSquares
                                                                        • Americans are not super passionate about any particular cause
                                                                          • Affordable healthcare could be a risky corporate cause
                                                                            • Figure 14: Issues consumers feel strongly about, March 2019
                                                                        • Key Trends – What You Need to Know

                                                                          • Most people try not to harm the Earth
                                                                            • Sustainable solutions could give struggling brands a second chance
                                                                              • Consumers increase scrutiny of those atop the corporate ladder
                                                                                • CEOs could be ethical figureheads
                                                                                  • Taking or avoiding controversial stances could both backfire on brands
                                                                                    • Brands should consider proactive supply chain transparency
                                                                                    • Mintel Trends

                                                                                      • Consumer Driver: Surroundings
                                                                                        • Figure 15: US consumers’ connection to Surroundings pillars, July 2019
                                                                                      • Sustainability
                                                                                        • Localism
                                                                                          • Equality
                                                                                            • Ethics
                                                                                              • Mintel Trend: Rethink Plastic
                                                                                                • Figure 16: Ways brands can best demonstrate environmental friendliness, October 2019
                                                                                              • Spotlight: Gerber’s recycling program
                                                                                                • Mintel Trend: Buydeology
                                                                                                  • Values are tricky to define
                                                                                                    • Figure 17: Consumers’ attitudes toward brand values, by generation, March 2019
                                                                                                  • Spotlight: Uber’s values makeover
                                                                                                      • Figure 18: Dara Khosrowshahi Twitter post, December 2019
                                                                                                  • What’s Working

                                                                                                    • NBC’s The Good Place
                                                                                                      • Figure 19: The Good Place – How Your Life Is Scored (Episode Highlight), September 2016
                                                                                                    • CEOs can leverage their socially responsible halos
                                                                                                      • Figure 20: Agreement that corporate execs’ words and actions reflect on their company, by generation, October 2019
                                                                                                    • Mastercard’s CEO sets ethical example
                                                                                                      • Ethical Certifications
                                                                                                        • Fetzer Vineyards
                                                                                                          • Figure 21: Celebrating 50 Years of Fetzer video, January 2018
                                                                                                        • Etsy
                                                                                                        • What’s Struggling

                                                                                                          • Inequity within the Walt Disney Company
                                                                                                            • Boeing’s reputation suffers after tragedy and cover-ups
                                                                                                              • Gillette’s #TheBestMenCanBe campaign
                                                                                                                  • Figure 22: We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film), January 2019
                                                                                                                • Hallmark generates controversy by trying to avoid controversy
                                                                                                                  • Figure 23: Zola | Easy Wedding Planning | TV Ad Spot, December 2019
                                                                                                              • What to Watch

                                                                                                                • Sustainability innovations can help soda companies survive
                                                                                                                  • Coca-Cola
                                                                                                                    • PepsiCo
                                                                                                                      • Increased scrutiny of corporate owners, board members and executives
                                                                                                                        • Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family
                                                                                                                          • Equinox and SoulCycle
                                                                                                                            • Greater demand for supply chain information
                                                                                                                              • Smartphones aren’t safe from ethical breaches either
                                                                                                                              • The Consumer – What You Need to Know

                                                                                                                                • Brands need to meet women’s ethical standards
                                                                                                                                  • Corporations must strive to do no harm (to their customers)
                                                                                                                                    • Most consumers support fair treatment of employees
                                                                                                                                      • Concept of sustainability unclear beyond recycling
                                                                                                                                        • Cleaning supplies and fast food face ethical challenges
                                                                                                                                        • Corporate Responsibility

                                                                                                                                            • Most consumers feel corporations owe their customers respect
                                                                                                                                              • Support for a living wage not universal
                                                                                                                                                • Honesty does not top the list of responsibilities
                                                                                                                                                  • Environmental concerns also fall lower on the list
                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 24: Attitudes toward corporate responsibility, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                  • TURF analysis: Reaching consumers through corporate responsibility
                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 25: TURF Analysis – Corporate responsibility, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                  • Women feel more strongly about corporations’ responsibilities than men
                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 26: Attitudes toward corporate responsibility, by gender, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                • Demonstrating Social Responsibility

                                                                                                                                                    • Social responsibility means offering employees benefits
                                                                                                                                                      • Few consumers are eager for brands to take stances on social issues
                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 27: Ways brands can best demonstrate social responsibility, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                      • Women have more to gain from employee benefits
                                                                                                                                                        • Spotlight: Patagonia
                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 28: Ways brands can best demonstrate social responsibility, by gender, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                        • A controversial stance could alienate older consumers
                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 29: Ways brands can best demonstrate social responsibility, by generation, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                      • Demonstrating Sustainable Practices

                                                                                                                                                          • Using recycled materials signals a commitment to the Earth
                                                                                                                                                            • Figure 30: Top ways brands can best demonstrate environmental friendliness, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                          • Spotlight: Every Bottle Back
                                                                                                                                                            • Women more likely to favor reduction of plastics and packaging
                                                                                                                                                              • Phrase “carbon neutral” resonates better with men
                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 31: Ways brands can best demonstrate environmental friendliness, by gender, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                              • Younger generations less hopeful for an improved environment
                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 32: Agreement that nothing can be done to save the environment, by generation, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                              • But, younger generations willing to pay more to protect the Earth
                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 33: Agreement that it’s worth paying more for environmentally friendly products, by generation, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                            • Category Perceptions

                                                                                                                                                              • Correspondence Analysis
                                                                                                                                                                • Packaging waste not necessarily associated with harming the environment
                                                                                                                                                                  • War on packaged food continues
                                                                                                                                                                    • Few consumers see social media companies as detrimental to society
                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 34: Correspondence Analysis – Symmetrical map – Category perceptions, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 35: Issues causing concern, by type of category, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                                    • Older generations are more wary of cleaning supplies
                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 36: Concerns about cleaning products, by generation, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                                    • Fast food brands face challenges with younger generations
                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 37: Concerns about cleaning products, by type of category and generation, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                                  • Deal Breakers: Unethical Actions

                                                                                                                                                                      • Selling products that harm people could drive away some consumers
                                                                                                                                                                        • Spotlight: Walgreens’s tobacco policy
                                                                                                                                                                          • Covering up a scandal is a deal breaker for half of all consumers
                                                                                                                                                                            • Some consumers say they draw the line at harming animals or the Earth
                                                                                                                                                                              • Only four in 10 would boycott brands that do not pay employees fairly
                                                                                                                                                                                • Supporting a controversial cause not as likely to trigger boycotts
                                                                                                                                                                                  • Figure 38: Reasons to stop buying from a brand or company, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                • Women are more likely than men to take their business elsewhere
                                                                                                                                                                                  • Figure 39: Reasons to stop buying from a brand or company, by gender, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                • Millennials and Gen Z less turned off by corporate deception
                                                                                                                                                                                  • Figure 40: Reasons to stop buying from a brand or company, by generation, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                                              • Appendix – Data Sources and Terminology

                                                                                                                                                                                • Data sources
                                                                                                                                                                                  • Consumer survey data
                                                                                                                                                                                    • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                                                                                                      • Abbreviations
                                                                                                                                                                                        • Terms
                                                                                                                                                                                          • Defining generations
                                                                                                                                                                                          • Appendix – The Consumer

                                                                                                                                                                                            • Correspondence Analysis: Methodology
                                                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 41: Category perceptions, October 2019
                                                                                                                                                                                              • TURF Analysis: Methodology
                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Figure 42: TURF Analysis – Corporate responsibility, October 2019

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