Swift Ukraine action boosts brand reputation, but the public are unforgiving of those that hesitated

The war in Ukraine has brought quick and decisive action from several major brands, with statements and actions made public condemning Russia’s actions, and in some cases halting business with Russia entirely.

Many brands that were quick to take this action, such as McDonald’s, Mastercard and Coca-Cola, have received a boost to their reputations following high levels of public approval. However, brands that hesitated have been met with disapproval by the unforgiving public according to research firm Sensu Insight’s recent study.

The study

The research was conducted across the 50 businesses most associated with the war, identified using a brand tracking tool. A survey of 2,000 UK adults was then used to create reputation Impact Scores, based upon public sentiment and the level of each organisation’s association with issues resulting from the invasion..

McDonald’s came out on top for its response to the Ukraine war, with 28% of UK adults, who were aware of its actions, saying their view of the company had improved or significantly improved. The brand received the highest positive score of +592.4, following the brand’s announcement to close all 847 of its Russian restaurants in early March. Mastercard, which suspended operations in Russia on 5 March, had an Impact Score of +424.3. Coca-Cola (+390.5), Visa (+344.6) and Ikea (+237.51) all followed close behind, further underlining the correlation between brands that took swift action against Russia, and an improved public perception.

 Rank Company Impact Score
 1  McDonalds  +592.35
 2  Mastercard  +424.26
 3  Coca-Cola  +390.52
 4  Visa  +344.64
 5  Ikea  +237.51

Businesses with the most negative approval ratings, such as Gazprom, Apple and BP, were either thought to have been slow to react (taking more than two weeks on average to respond, compared to ten days on average for the highest scoring), closely associated with the Russian state or were perceived to have put business needs ahead of humanitarian concerns.

Rank Company Impact Score
45 Ericsson -120.00
46 BlackRock -133.32
47 Shell

-238.50

48 BP -296.66
49 Apple -309.50
50 Gazprom -407.52

The research also revealed that many customers have changed their purchasing behaviour as a result of a brand’s response to the war. Nearly a fifth (18.5%) of the public have stopped buying from a brand that showed no support to Ukraine, whilst 20% have actively looked for brands that are supporting the cause. Nearly a fifth (18%) have purchased a product because a donation to the cause would be made.

Despite many companies now having either withdrawn or suspended operations in Russia, 54.7% of Brits believe that many large corporations still need to do more in relation to the Ukraine war.

Speed of response

One of the key findings in the study was how speed of response was vital in managing the reputation of the brands. For example, the top five highest scoring organisations took an average of 10 days to respond. In addition to this, the brands that received the most positive scores took 12 days to respond on average, whereas those who scored negatively took 16 days to respond on average. This data shows that promptness of response seems to hold more significance that the actual action taken. By ensuring that the reactions were swift, decisive, and took advantage of the news cycle at the time, brands were able to boost their reputation by being some of the quickest public responders.

Brand reputation and effective communication

Whilst the survey’s findings generally point to speed of response being the most effective form of reaction, there were some notable exceptions that pointed towards effective communication as a powerful tool for brand reputation when executed well.

Nestle

Nestle was one of the few brands not to withdraw or suspend activities in Russia. Despite this, Nestle recieved a positive Impact Score of +137. This was due to suspending its non-essential brands in Russia, such as Nesquik, but continuing essential products, like baby food, a decision that was well-communicated and met with positive feedback.

Apple

Apple was a brand that reacted quickly, but unfortunately failed to communicate effectively when called upon by the public. This means that whilst it did react to the crisis, it didn’t do it transparently, making it look like it wasn’t responding to the public distress, resulting in a poor Impact Score of -309

Microsoft

Finally, Microsoft reacted by raising funds for Ukraine, as well as offering support against cyber-attacks, a favourable decision that was only improved by the quick communication statement.

Research methodology

Net approval scores were calculated on the strength of positive or negative public feeling towards the business response, based on a nationally-representative survey of 2,000 UK adults.

Strong consumer sentiment (where views had ‘significantly worsened/improved’, rather than ‘slightly worsened/improved’) was counted double to reflect its likelihood of affecting long-term perception.

From these, Impact Scores were calculated by multiplying the net approval score by each business’s overall association with the war (ie, what percentage of consumers that profile has influenced). To find out more about the study as well as full statistics see here.

Written by Steve Leigh, MD of Sensu Insight

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