Nearly 80% of Australians believe brands should use their power to make an impact for real world change on social and workplace inequality, according to new research conducted by Nine and cultural insights agency, FiftyFive5.

As conflict in Ukraine rages on, and culture wars dominate climate change and LGBTQIA+ rights, marketers are facing growing pressure from consumers for their brands to be seen as playing an activist role in a range of social issues.

The research, which explores the influence brands have as champions of change and whether taking a stand is as beneficial for profits as it is for society, shows 63% of Australians believe brands can drive change on climate, and 54% respondents believe brands can be a force for good on job creation.

“We’ve been noticing for some time now that consumers have elevated the role that trusted brands play in our everyday lives,” said Nine’s director of insights and strategy, Toby Boon.

“In the absence of what many Australians feel is proactive change from government on issues ranging from climate change to inequality, consumers are turning to brands to lead the charge for a better society. But equally, they’re holding brands to a higher standard than ever before, and authenticity is key.”

According to the study, consumers are looking beyond the brand into the company, with an overwhelming number of Australians demanding the internal policies of a business reflect the values presented in its brand marketing.

Set amongst a deeply decisive landscape, nearly all Australians are on the same page with their expectations of how corporate Australia can act, with 87% expecting brands to operate ethically, 81% expecting brands to be socially responsible, and 79% expecting brands to tackle workplace inequality.

The issues people feel are hitting closest to home are the soaring cost of living (60%), climate change (51%), healthcare (40%) and the economy (39%). It is why consumers are agitating for activism from the brands they touch.

FiftyFive5 director, cultural forecasting, Michelle Newton, said consumers now expect brands to take a position on issues.

“We conducted a study with a national representation of Australians to reveal the level of participation that brands can have in addressing some of the larger, social cultural issues in this country,” she said.

“We learnt that consumers not only want brands to participate in issues like workplace equality and climate change, but there is also an expectation that they will take a stand and do better across a variety of issues.”

With nearly one in two consumers wanting to see brands engage in activities that would increase awareness of a particular social issue, businesses that don’t take a position may feel the impact.

Nowhere is this more visible than in the key consumer targets of Gen Z and Gen X, with these generations overwhelmingly (62% of Z’s; 57% of X’s) determined to withhold custom from businesses that are not supportive of LGBTQIA+ rights.

“Brands that want to take a stand on a cause or campaign on an issue should follow six key steps,” said Boon. “Line up your internal policies with your external positions, identify the issues most relevant to your brand and consumers, back up your position with action, commit for the long term, be authentic, and own your past mistakes.

“Brand activism isn’t new, but the transparency must be there. There is a lot going on in the world at the moment, and providing they’re genuine, brands can transcend from being a product to something much more ethereal and meaningful that impacts on our world and our children’s future.”

Saatchi & Saatchi chief creative officer, Mike Spirkovski, added: “It’s all about the truth. Brands may not have moved forward enough, but just tell the truth. Skepticism comes from lying. It comes from the greenwashing, it comes from promises not progress, and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’re seeing at the moment.

“You’ve got these amazing brands that are all about progress, they’re in-market doing something, talking about it, and giving you the data, and giving you the information. You’re dealing with an audience who is forensic. Gen Z is a forensic demographic. They will not participate with any brand until their values and purposes align.”

The research conducted by Powered and FiftyFive5 is part of Powered’s Cultural Conversation series presented at The Big Idea Store in today’s session, The Revolution will be Advertised, held from 11am-12pm.