The debate over North Carolina’s controversial HB2 includes businesses from large to small whose CEOs are protesting its passage through public statements to delaying economic development and moving events elsewhere. And new research from Duke University finds that companies can benefit financially by being activists.

Laws affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LBGT) community also have ignited protests elsewhere. And Duke Professor Aaron Chatterji sees a bottom line boost coming as a result. The recently published paper focuses in part on Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has been especially active in opposing legislation he sees as discriminatory.

“CEO activism might not be about moving the needle on how people think, but might be rallying supporters to their side who actually get excited about buying the products,” Chatterji says.

Chatterji, an associate professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, co-wrote the research paper published last month along with Michael Toffel of the Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Management Unit

The abstract reads:

“Several CEOs are receiving significant media attention for taking public positions on controversial social and environmental issues largely unrelated to their core business, ranging from gay marriage to climate change to gender equality.

“We provide the first evidence that such ‘CEO activism’ can influence public opinion and consumer attitudes. Our field experiment examines the impact of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s public statements opposing a pending religious freedom law that critics warned would allow discrimination against same-sex couples.

“Our results confirm the influence of issue framing on public opinion and suggest that CEOs can sway public opinion, and potentially to the same extent as prominent politicians.

“Moreover, Cook’s CEO activism increased consumer intentions to purchase Apple products, especially among proponents of same-sex marriage.”

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