The country is at a crossroads. America’s midterm elections are just 19 days away and this year, abortion is on the ballot. People across the nation must decide whether or not to support candidates in favor of reproductive rights. And new research suggests that they are looking to the advertising industry to take a stance as well.

On Tuesday, an AdWeek panel titled Loss of Liberties: Advertising at the Intersection of Bodily Autonomy presented research from global media and marketing company Mindshare, and GroupM, the world’s leading media investment company. It examined the sentiments of those who have been and will continue to be, most impacted by America’s diminishing rights to privacy. What they found is that Black people, LGBTQ+ people, wome, and allies expect advertisers to be part of the solution. And that solution involves advocacy, not ads.

The more than 2,000 respondents came from a marketplace study that had the goal of unpacking the way people were feeling around bodily autonomy. “We wanted to understand the influence that media was having and then from there, really begin to figure out what is the role of brands in this conversation,” says LaToya Christian, Managing Partner, Executive Director of Inclusive Strategy & Innovation at GroupM. “We also wanted to ensure that we were centering this conversation and centering our data on those vital voices that are most often overlooked, but yet most impacted.”

Christian points to the 200-plus anti-LGBTQ+ bills in Congress aimed at overturning freedoms as an example of the inequities that exist between groups when it comes to the right to own decisions over their own body. But despite the inability of certain communities to make these choices, 86 percent of the respondents in our survey believe that having a choice over their own health, and their own sexual identity is a basic human right. This belief is what is informing their point of view on the role businesses play in this discussion, which is backed up by a Center for American Progress Report that shows major companies now have the same level of influence as the Supreme Court and the federal government. 

“That becomes important because a healthy democracy is imperative for a business to thrive,” Christian notes. “We're currently living in a time where our overall constitutional freedoms are being undermined. And so we question ourselves as business leaders in terms of what is our role in bringing forth positive social change.”

From this research study, the hope is that businesses will understand that people all across the nation have very real fears around their bodily autonomy, particularly those communities that are diverse in nature and the most likely to be impacted. Knowing this, they are calling on businesses to be mindful of the language being used in campaigns, marketing materials, advertisements, and internal communications. “Businesses should be explicit and direct instead of talking around the issue,” Christian states.

Most importantly, brands should be working with NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and advocacy groups on the issue of bodily autonomy and investing in the movement rather than co-opting it as a means to have a marketing moment. “Purpose marketing has to change in order for brands to align their values with how they are actually behaving,” says Christian. “That’s not just in advertising, but in every part of their communications.”