Peer pressure causes brands to unilaterally distance from Russia

Campaign Savvy wordmark with headshot of Campaign US editor Alison Weissbrot

The dominos have fallen as brands publicly band together against the Kremlin. How might this impact advertiser response to other crises down the line?

As the Russian assault on Ukraine continues, major corporations have gone beyond condemning the violence to ceasing business completely with the aggressor.

On Tuesday UnileverMcDonald’sProcter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, four of the most influential brand marketers in the world, joined the chorus of companies that have cut or severely limited economic ties with Russia as well as paused advertising in the region.

Their action comes after more than 100 companies, from Apple to Volkswagen, turned their backs on Russia as Putin continues to escalate violence and sanctions make it difficult to operate in the country.

To the extent that these moves are not completely motivated by economic sanctions, from a marketing perspective, brands that tend to tiptoe the line on hot-button political issues seem to be nodding in agreement that ditching Russia and fully supporting the Ukrainian defense is the right move.

It is interesting, however, to see how peer pressure helps brands come to such bold decisions.

According to Bloomberg, on March 5 both Visa and Mastercard issued statements that they would exit Russia within minutes of each other. In the auto sector, brands including GM, Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen all halted shipments to Russia and idled factories in the country within the span of a week.

All of the major energy companies – Shell, BP, and ExxonMobile, to name a few – pulled back from Russia in short order after Putin’s attack. And in tech, Samsung and Apple halted production in and exports to Russia, while Microsoft and Intel suspended new sales in the country.

Marketers generally span a range of opinions and actions when responding to major crises and societal issues (if at all), carefully weighing the risks and rewards for their specific brands and consumer bases.

But Putin’s unjust attack seems to have spawned an unprecedented agreement among brands that ditching Russia is not just the right decision – it’s the only decision.

Even trade organizations such as the World Federation of Advertisers are advising their constituents on how to disentangle from Russia, Putin’s regime and his oligarchs, reiterating the solidarity among the marketing and business community.

Urgency is key in times of war, and brands have a moral and ethical responsibility to distance themselves from Russia under Putin’s regime.

I do, however, wonder how this unilateral pullback will impact ordinary citizens in Russia, many of whom are against the war, sympathize with Ukraine or are being fed a steady diet of misinformation about the situation on the ground.

Regardless, Putin’s unprovoked, unjust and uncalled for attack on Ukraine has awoken a moral agreement in brands that this case calls for urgent international solidarity.

As brands continue to invest heavily in environmental, social and governance practices, and to stake their claim around purpose, I’d like to see them find this decisive courage with other societal and humanitarian issues that might not be as black and white as an egregious and unjustified war.

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