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More big companies are weighing in on political and social issues. Here's why.

Major brands get political
Major companies face backlash and boycotts after taking political stands 07:05

Target, Bud Light and Disney have all faced backlash over their support of the LGBTQ community. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks are paying travel costs for employees seeking abortions in states where it is now illegal. Nike faced boycott threats for its support of Colin Kaepernick. Levi Strauss backed gun control efforts.

All of these examples highlight a major shift in corporate America's tone as more big brands sell not only their products, but also their values.

It wasn't always this way. In fact, during the civil rights movement, when The New York Times Magazine asked if corporations "have a social duty" to speak up, the head of U.S. Steel declared that's "quite beyond what a corporation should do."

Times have changed.

"Companies are focusing on longer-term, purpose-driven commitments and actions that relate back to their core business and their core values," said Amy Terpeluk, who helps craft such strategies as a managing partner for the marketing firm Finn Partners.

She said this is partly a push by investors, partly the sway of employees and largely because of the expectations of customers themselves.

"We're facing these incredible social and environmental issues we need to solve and we need to solve fast," she said. "And they look to companies as having the resources, the speed and the social innovations to be able to do that."

Sprout Social, a software company that works to help businesses grow, conducted a survey that shows 70% of Americans now believe brands should take a stand on social issues. Another report out this year from communications firm Edelman found nearly two-thirds say they'll buy products based on beliefs and values.

But not all customers believe the same things.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is locked in a political battle with Disney after the company publicly opposed a bill he later signed into law. Bud Light, meanwhile, faced backlash and watched its sales plummet for sending a promotional can to a prominent transgender social media star. And customers in some Target stores have confronted workers and knocked over displays of LGBTQ-supportive merchandise.

"This is absolutely dangerous to businesses that wade into these issues. And they really do it at their own peril," said Will Hild, executive director of Consumers' Research, a nonprofit that's been issuing "woke alerts" about companies taking progressive stances.

"Our message is simply this: Serve your consumers, not woke politicians and activists," he said.

He sees these campaigns as quite obviously a shift to the left and doesn't buy the idea that customers really want this kind of marketing.

"I think they should just focus on selling high-quality goods and services at a reasonable price," he said.

He thinks corporate America, writ large, is running the risk of alienating half of their potential customers.

One result is a recent boom in right-leaning companies. Black Rifle Coffee Company, for example, is a conservative alternative to Starbucks, and The Daily Wire, a right-leaning media company, is dreaming even bigger with a line of "anti-woke" shaving gear, chocolate bars and eventually, they say, children's programming.

But it hasn't deterred companies like The Body Shop, which works with Finn Partners and has a full-time activism team at its headquarters.

"The Body Shop was really founded around the belief that business can and should be a force for good," said Nykeba King, the retail chain's global head of inclusion and belonging.

And there are reminders of that belief in every store, even if not every customer appreciates it.

"We respect the fact that there are people who may not align with our positions, but we're firm in what we believe," King said.

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