Brands operating in the modern world have learned that in order to achieve brand loyalty and success, they should communicate with purpose and take a public stand on topical—and often controversial—social issues. But according to a survey conducted by PR and marketing agency Method Communications, those same rules apparently don’t apply to most American consumers.

Method’s report, which sought to understand the role empathy plays in society as well as consumer-brand relationships, suggests that empathy among Americans has suffered a sharp decline.

Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) think empathy in the United States has decreased in the past year. Only 27 percent think the average American is empathetic, down from 54 percent in 2021. More than a third (35 percent) admitted they’re disengaged from politics because they feel powerless to make a difference.

Method’s report: “Watch your Language: Think Like A Brand, Speak Like A Person”

That said, Americans still want brands to speak with a degree of authenticity and reliability that connects with them on an emotional level. The report found that more than two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans say a brand’s stance on social issues affects their purchasing decisions, and 47 percent said they want to hear more human-centric stories in the news and from brands. Nearly half (42 percent) said they’ve stopped purchasing from a brand due to a stance it took on a social issue, while 32 percent said they’ve purchased something due to a brand’s stance.

More than a third (34 percent) said they actively pay attention to brands’ stances on social issues so that their spending aligns with their personal values, though more than a quarter (26 percent) of respondents admitted that they still purchase products from brands they disagree with and said they feel guilty about it.

Perhaps in response to this sentiment, three-quarters (76 percent) of those polled said they think society would be better off if people were more empathetic. More than half (59 percent) said they blame politicians for a decline in empathy in America, while 48 percent blame social media and 44 blame the news media.

Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans surveyed admitted they worry about the words they use every day, and 42 percent said they often censor themselves so they don’t accidentally say something controversial. Only 10 percent said they never worry about their word choices.

Method’s report, “Watch your Language: Think Like A Brand, Speak Like A Person,” surveyed more than 2,000 Americans in November. Data was collected via an online survey using market research firm Dynata.