Consumers Want Companies to Be More Empathetic, Study Shows | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Consumers Want Companies to Be More Empathetic, Study Shows

By Joanna Fragopoulos


People crave empathy — and yet the digital and marketing landscape could be doing a much more effective job of fostering it and creating an environment where people feel seen, heard, and connected. As Jeff Tan and Brad Alperin of Dentsu International USA stated, "Radical empathy is more important than any technology. By thinking foremost about human needs, brands have the opportunity to truly innovate."

The pursuit of this goal starts with inclusivity — and creating ads that represent diverse communities — as well as hiring and retaining diverse talent. External change, for instance, doesn't happen without internal change and structuring. For many people, seeing brands not just tout progressive politics and messages of support and welcome isn't enough — consumers want to see actions back up words.

Fabricia de Silva, multicultural marketing manager at Brown-Forman/Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, echoed this sentiment, stating at an ANA event, "We know when a brand isn't talking to us. When you see an ad over the holidays or any other time, and you see representation, that's almost as touching as it is when there's a program that targets you directly."

The importance of empathy is further illuminated by recent research. The agency Method conducted and released a study (spanning from 2019 to 2021) that showed 73 percent of people in the U.S. believe society would be better if people were empathetic; however, actions speak louder than words, as the research proved: only 29 percent felt that "taking a public stance on a social or political issue is an effective way of practicing empathy."

Companies could effectively practice empathy, according to Method's study, by paying higher wages (43 percent of respondents cite this as crucial) and employing a more diverse workforce (according to 40 percent of respondents). There is a great need for companies to change their policies, as 92 percent of respondents want to see brands practice empathy. Internal policies are a powerful way to begin to change not only the narrative, but also the atmosphere.

The research supports this, as well, with 60 percent stating that companies should be empathetic with employees first — and 50 percent believe the "best thing brands can do to make their statements more believable is to back those statements up with action."

Unsurprisingly, younger generations are leading the conversation. On social media, people between the ages of 18 and 24 are leading the conversation by 57 percent, with percentages decreasing in order of age (with people between the ages of 45 and 54 at only five percent).

Brand Examples


Creative production house Media.Monks' employee resource group WoMMen in Tech created an initiative to promote empathy and to create a safe space at work called The Empathy Experiment. The initiative became an interactive microsite on which members could discuss the needs of the community.

The initiative was created in partnership with research organization Diversity Standards Collective and clinical psychologist Kimberly Nenemay, Psy.D. Nenemay was able "to build an experience that reflects how human behavior and the human mind work with a diverse range of empathetic behaviors and responses," as explained in an ANA piece.


Crayola reimagined its iconic Colors of the World eight-pack and turned it into a 24-pack with specially formulated colors representing over 40 global skin tones. This revamp of the campaign won the brand an ANA 2020 Multicultural Excellence Award.

While consumers liked the product due to its inclusivity, criticism illustrated that the colors didn't accurately denote skin tone and thus weren't diverse enough. Moreover, consumers disliked "multicultural" as a product name.

Crayola used these insights to revamp and transform the product and chose an overall product name that resonated with the DEI community. The outcome? A 24-count washable marker set, a 96-page coloring book, and a 24-count coloring pencil set that was both more inclusive in name and variety — ultimately allowing children to be more creative and explorative.

Joanna Fragopoulos is a director of editorial and content development at ANA.

The views and opinions expressed in Industry Insights are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.