There’s a moral war raging for our minds.
And it’s a jus bellum justum (a just war) for our moral values.
Cancel culture. Deplatforming. Identity politics. Political correctness. Woke capitalism. Alternative facts. Fake news. Filter bubbles. Armies of online trolls. Bot attacks. Electoral tampering. Populism.
It’s the alt-right versus the alt-left.
The just war theory dictates that “[… ] war, while terrible (but less so with the right conduct), is not always the worst option. Important responsibilities, undesirable outcomes, or preventable atrocities may justify war”.
And this moral war is spelling devastating consequences for businesses all over the world.
Brandcallers are using deliberate misunderstandings as tools only to bring brands to political compliance. Business after business are being hung out to dry and are being used as a case-in-point by both extremes in this moral war.
Businesses are trying to raise to the challenge, but how?
To start, we need to understand this new media landscape.
Armies of online jurors and judges
So, how should your business navigate this inflammatory moral war?
There are three key online publics segmented based on how they communicate their underlying moral philosophy. And they use the internet as their primary tool both for organising themselves and to exert moral extortion.
Social justice warriors (the alt-left) will not accept any perceived “injustice”. They regard themselves as morally superior and they see all opponents as immediate threats to their way of life. According to this public, online aggression is a reasonable form of political expression.
Patriotic traditionalists (the alt-right) sees “common sense” derived from generations of empirical moral insights to trump all other forms of insights. They celebrate homogeneity, patriotism, and are often religious. According to this public, online aggression is a reasonable form of political expression.
The silent majority are moderately invested in moral philosophy; they are more focused on making ends meet in their personal lives. They avoid taking any such aggressive stands — at least publicly. However, they do actively “vote” online by clicking, watching, reading, and listening.
How should a brand navigate this moral war?
Either pick a side and stick with it — or do your best to steer clear?
Scoring quick moral points
For any brand struggling with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues, it’s tempting to try and score quick points with short-lived public “outrages”.
Sure enough, businesses who decides to pose as beacons for moral modeling could very well gain traction with the chosen minority.
But does this make business sense?
From a public relations perspective, conflicts such as these could serve as fuel for media attention, but it’s far from obvious that these brands will increase their market shares; the share-of-voice for the loudest agitators are rarely proportional to their actual numbers.
A recent example would be Gillette’s campaign in which they attacked their customer base with accusations of not being accountable enough for toxic masculinity.
Investment advisor Jack Hough writes:
“That raises the question of whether Gillette’s financial results are suffering because of its toxic-masculinity misfire. On Tuesday, Procter & Gamble (PG) beat earnings and revenue forecasts, but the stock fell 3% on a day the S&P 500 closed at a new high.”
Most brands will likely do better if they realise that it’s not their core business to teach grown-ups about what constitutes moral behaviour.
Few ordinary businesses are suited to serve as mouthpieces for hundreds — or even thousands — of coworkers. Or customers — sometimes in their millions.
Like me, you probably have your own set of moral convictions, but these convictions aren’t necessary the right baseline for all corporate communications activities.
Moral conformity and human resources
Most importantly — the moral war isn’t just a public relations challenge.
It’s true that brands must stand for something and that they must be brave enough to see these fights through.
A brand must find their core message and this message must resonate with owners, leaders, coworkers, and customers.
But the basic foundation for long-term strategic success in navigating a moral war like this is also a challenge for human resources, HR.
Today, HR must decide if they should hire and fire on the basis of moral classification as well as on competence levels.
This is an impossible challenge:
On the one side, HR must hire and fire with diversity in mind. But when it comes to moral convictions, diversity suddenly becomes the wrong strategy all of a sudden.
The ability to find co-workers with highly compatible morals, yet are still highly diverse in every other way, is an impossible HR strategy.
How to navigate the moral war
Avoid trying to score quick moral points. CSR- and ESG activities should be laser-focused, clearly defined, and business relevant.
Hire and fire based on competency. Diversity should serve as a fallback when all else is equal — and this goes for moral diversity, too.
Internally, celebrate different thinking. Having coworkers who thinks differently is an asset to any business culture.
Don’t let the extreme publics intimidate you. The extremes are loud and noisy, especially online, but they don’t have the numbers to match.
Focus your PR strategy on the silent majority. The majority of your customer base will be found in the silent majority, not in the extremes.