It’s not necessarily moral to dish out free ethics advice

There’s a cultural battle raging for our morality.

This moral battle could spell devastating consequences for businesses trying to communicate efficiently with their publics. A business could easily be hung out to dry just for being deliberately misunderstood and used as a case-in-point for either side in this war.

Like me, you might have strong moral opinions yourself, but these opinions aren’t necessary the right base for corporate messaging.

An organisation is rarely suited to serve as a mouthpiece for hundreds or even thousands of personal opinions.

We live in a world of infinite jurors and judges

So, how should your business navigate this inflammatory culture war?

To better understand the field of battle, we must identify four key groups based on their underlying philosophy of life and ethics.

Social Justice Warriors (1) will not accept any perceived social injustice. They regard themselves as morally superior and they see any concentration of power as a form of oppression.

Science-Driven Realists (2) draw moral conclusions from scientific facts, which results in a harsh and cold view of the world. They often display a low tolerance for religious views or emotional arguments.

Wholesome Traditionalists (3) sees common sense derived from generations of empirical wisdom to trump other forms of insights. They celebrate being down-to-earth, patriotic and are often religious.

The Pragmatic Majority (4) are only moderately interested in moral philosophy; they are more focused on making ends meet in their personal lives. They avoid taking any such stands — at least publicly.

How should a brand navigate such a complex cultural environment? There are two strategic routes to choose between. Either you pick a side (1-3) and stick with it — or you find a way to stay out of it (4).

The art of steering straight through a moral storm

For any brand, it’s easy to fall prey for the temptation to score quick points with short-lived public opinions.

Businesses who decides to act as beacons for moral behaviour will gain traction with the chosen minority while earning themselves highly engaged enemies at the same time.

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 500closed at a new high.”

In short: 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.

Collective consensus on moral issues is a HR challenge

Most importantly — this isn’t 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 culture wars is fundamentally a challenge for HR — not PR.

Today, brands must hire and fire on basis of moral classification as well as on competence.

The ability to find co-workers with compatible values will be a determining factor for brands who wish to survive this war — and come out even stronger than before.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.