Why Patagonia, Jeni’s Ice Creams really want you to vote in midterms

Ice-cream maker Jeni’s will hand out extra scoops on Tuesday for the midterm elections, ride-hailing app Lyft is giving riders 50% off trips to the polls, and outdoor gear purveyor Patagonia swapped its usual photos of adventure in stunning natural settings for a plain black and white message on its website: “Democracy requires showing up. Go Vote.”

Ahead of closely watched midterm elections that are widely seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s agenda, consumer brands are promoting voter turnout like never before. Levi’s is running a national TV ad featuring jeans-clad voters to the tune of Aretha Franklin’s galvanizing song “Think.”

Companies that don’t take some kind of stance risk losing customers, especially younger ones.

Patagonia went so far as to endorse two Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, the first time the company, long an advocate for environmental causes, has taken a stance on individual candidates. It’s also closing its brick-and-mortar stores on Tuesday to allow employees time to vote.

Why all this corporate attention to whether Americans exercise their most fundamental rights? One theory: Companies that don’t take some kind of stance risk losing customers, especially younger ones. Some 66% of customers want brands to weigh in on political issues, and 44% will buy more from a brand if they do so, a 2018 report by Chicago-based social media analytics company Sprout Social found.

“The risk of inaction is almost greater,” said Gabi Lieberman, director of trends and social media research at the marketing research firm Mintel. It’s not enough for brands to just talk about the ideals they support — they also have to put their words into action, especially if they want to appeal to customers who are 23 and younger and part of the so-called iGen generation, Lieberman said.

It’s not enough for brands to just talk about the ideals they support — they need to put their words into action.

“They’re socially and digitally connected and, for them, a brand has to stand up for their values,” she added. “You’re going to get found out if you’re a brand and you say you stand for something and then transparency comes knocking on the door.”

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, an Ohio-based maker of handmade $12 pints of salty caramel and other flavors that have been called the best ice cream in America, has been involved in promoting voting since its founding in 2002, said owner Jeni Britton Bauer. The company is a certified B Corporation, meaning that meets certain requirements for transparency and sustainability. Britton Bauer said using the company’s social media reach to encourage civic engagement was in line with its long-standing values.

“We are definitely a company who wants to make our values known,” Britton Bauer told MarketWatch in an email. “It’s not something we do as a part of the trend, we were a part of bringing that trend to the forefront (along with other greats before us — Patagonia, Ben Jerry’s). Our company was formed by our beliefs and our value system. And that’s the community our customers join when they enter our world.”

It’s great exposure ahead of the holiday shopping season

The energized election season also allows companies to get exposure as people gear up for holiday shopping. More than half of consumers (52%) say they’ll take companies’ stances on social issues into account as they buy their holiday presents this year, up three percentage points from 2017, a report released this month by market research group NPD found.

The election season also allows companies to get exposure as people gear up for holiday shopping.

That’s true particularly among Gen Z, the group born after 1997, which will account for 40% of all consumers by 2020, NPD noted. “While many might disregard the social and environmental views of younger consumers, they do so at their peril,” said NPD’s chief industry advisor Marshal Cohen. “After all, the oldest Gen Z consumers are just now entering the workforce — and the purchasing power of this generation will increase significantly in the years ahead.”

But it’s also true that 42% of Americans believe companies should stay away from controversial causes, according to Mintel. Promoting voting — an inherently nonpartisan act — is a way for brands to take a social stance without wading into partisan controversy.

On the other hand, Nike

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  jumped in with both feet by casting former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — famous for kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police shootings of young unarmed African-American men — for its latest “Just Do It” ad campaign, and sales got a boost as a result.

Patagonia and Levi’s are among about 140 companies engaged in a campaign called “Take Time To Vote” to promote voting this Election Day by offering paid time off to their employees so they can vote. The group includes snack bar maker KIND, women’s clothing company Eileen Fisher, chicken giant Tyson Foods

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 , and outdoor retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods

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 .

“A few weeks ago I sent a note to the team explaining why I feel personally connected to the cause, and I sent a reminder last week,” said KIND founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky. “The gist of it is that, as a Mexican immigrant, and as the son of a Holocaust survivor who was liberated by American soldiers, I have a deep appreciation for our democratic process. I don’t take our American system for granted, and voting is one of the best ways to participate in and strengthen that system.”

The effort may not only be aimed at attracting customers — it’s also a good move for luring younger workers. A majority of millennial workers (75%) said they would take a pay cut to work at a socially engaged company, according to a 2016 survey by Cone Communications.

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Leslie Albrecht is a personal finance reporter based in New York. She worked previously as a local news reporter at the New York City neighborhood news website DNAinfo, and as a reporter at the Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star, two McClatchy newspapers in California’s Central Valley. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterLeslie.

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