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Understanding Virtue Signaling: How Companies Can Do It Better/



Michael is a software engineer and startup growth expert with 10+ years of software engineering and machine learning experience.

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Understanding Virtue Signaling: How Companies Can Do It Better
Understanding Virtue Signaling How Companies Can Do It Better

Virtue signaling has become a popular term in recent years, referring to the act of expressing one’s high moral standing by expressing opinions on political and social issues, often with little or no intent to act on said opinions. While it is a natural human behavior to seek connection and meaning through common beliefs, it becomes problematic when individuals and companies engage in virtue signaling to impress others without genuine actions to back it up.

Many companies have attempted to jump on the bandwagon of virtue signaling to align with popular sentiments among consumers, but often they overshoot the subtleties of this approach and end up alienating their target audience. In this article, we explore the pitfalls of virtue signaling for businesses and how they can do it better.

Big Brand Virtue Debacles

Companies that engage in virtue signaling without genuine actions to back it up risk damaging their reputation and credibility. One common pitfall is when a company suddenly supports a cause it has previously ignored or neglected. Such a move is often seen as opportunistic and inauthentic, especially if it aligns with a seismic shift in public opinion. For a company to become a leading voice on a decades-old issue, it must first establish a track record as an ally.

Another issue arises when companies chime in on cultural moments, particularly those of a tragic nature, to capitalize on the occasion with a message of concern mixed with shameless self-promotion. This approach is seen as a surefire path to reputation annihilation as it exploits and disrespects the emotions of the public.

Charitable Half-Truths

Charitable Half-Truths

Many businesses have adopted the “give-back” ethos as a popular differentiator to gain virtue-cred. However, the practice has morphed into an obligatory item to include in pitch decks and calls to action. When companies misrepresent their charitable endeavors, customers can quickly spot the half-truths and feel misled. This tactic often results in public disgrace that lasts forever.

Companies that choose to manipulate with morality, then mislead about the nature of their giving, risk damaging their reputation and losing their customers’ trust. It is crucial for businesses to be transparent in their charitable endeavors and avoid cloaking their actions in ambiguous wording and fine print.

Tone Deaf

When it comes to political and social issues, the spectrum of opinions is vast, and a company that boldly proclaims a stance risks alienating even those who agree in principle. The key is not just what is said, but how it is said. Virtue signaling is a delicate art, and overdoing it can be counterproductive. While people appreciate businesses doing the right thing, incessant virtue signaling can be exhausting.

We Get It!

Crafting every marketing message around a cause and linking all purchasing decisions to ethical integrity is tiring. It’s essential to strike a balance between highlighting social issues and promoting business. Companies should avoid coming across as arrogant and hostile towards those with different viewpoints, as this can cause them to isolate themselves from large segments of the population.

Questionable Priorities

Businesses that spend more on an ad campaign promoting their virtue than they do support the issue itself send a message that their priorities are out of whack. Companies must be committed to a cause for the long haul and be willing to make serious decisions and sacrifices to back up their stance.

5 Common Sense Questions for Corporate Virtue Signaling

5 Common Sense Questions for Corporate Virtue Signaling

To ensure that their virtue-signaling efforts are effective and received positively, companies should ask themselves five common-sense questions before getting involved in any issue. These include determining how the message would sound if spoken by an individual, the long-term commitment to the cause, adding value rather than creating noise, avoiding mixing self-promotion with statements, and being accountable for their opinions.

Unmoved by Mock Altruism

In an age of digital disarray, people are not impressed by big-name brands that come in like a savior, expecting everyone to accept their message with awe and wonder. People want genuine and authentic expressions of goodwill, backed by actions, from businesses. Companies should focus on quality offerings and responsible business practices rather than trying to calibrate the moral compass of their consumers.


In summary, companies need to approach virtue signaling with caution, striking a balance between promoting their business and highlighting social issues. They should avoid arrogance, hostility, and mixed messaging while being genuinely committed to the causes they support. By asking common-sense questions and promoting genuine goodwill, companies can successfully navigate digital disarray and avoid coming across as tone-deaf or insincere.