Sales & Marketing

A Lesson On Brand Activism

BY: Bernardine Ruiz • Jul 03, 2019

Brand activism is on the rise today as the world and the society becomes more concerned, involved, and outspoken on various political, economic, and social issues. Conversations around said issues happen across all demographics to which brands and companies all cater to. The same brands and companies are also made up of people who have their own opinions and beliefs, while many of them profess to identify with the core values of their employers.

This “trend” came to the forefront especially in the US during this year’s Superbowl, an event not only watched for the love of the sport but also for showcases of advertising brilliance. Many brands took the opportunity to voice their stand especially against issues surrounding Americans today like racism, equal rights for women and the LGBTQ community, and immigration.

In the Philippines, brands and companies are more careful in taking a public stand especially on highly political issues. Many have championed causes their brands are aligned with – Pantene’s #WhipIt campaign for women empowerment, Dove’s global “real beauty” campaign, Bench’s Love Filipino series, and others. Many smaller brands and social entrepreneurs have been doing their part in providing livelihood for and empowering poor communities as well as raising environmental awareness through responsible manufacturing methods of their products.

The concept of brand activism is a tug-of-war discussion in companies themselves. On one hand, millennials, a growing market and the market of the future, are passion and value-driven. They search for purpose in what they do and down to the brands they use and want to associate with. Brands must be clear in what their own purpose are and be absolutely genuine about it, too. While millennials admire and subscribe to brands that have purpose, they are also quick to sniff out those who espouse values just to make noise and sell. On the other hand, brands are very much afraid of backlash among their target markets especially on political issues. With today’s highly polarized society, and this is across all demographics, taking a stand on politics and to a certain extent, social issues, can mean risk for brand reputation.

To reiterate and further discuss, here are three points for our reflection on brand activism:

1. Brand activism is not just a trend.

Brands and companies should not do marketing or even corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns just to be on-trend. Campaign messages can change, but your brand’s core values will stay for a longer time. If your brand wants to stand for something, it should be aligned with what the company is, its leadership, and its employees has as their mission, vision, and core values. Sooner rather than later, consumers will find out whether the brand and company are genuine in their beliefs.

As an example, take a look at the huge backlash on Pepsi’s “protest” ad with Kendall Jenner. Consumers were quick to boo the soft drink brand on its shallow understanding and portrayal of events that happen during protests. On the other hand, Heineken was praised for its “Worlds Apart” experiment where they paired together two people of opposing views. They made these people realize that they were similar more than they are different and that opening and starting mature conversations can actually produce a fruitful relationship. It made sense for Heineken as a brand because people naturally have friendly conversations over a couple of beers. It is now encouraging them to have even better conversations around what was once thought to be irreconcilable differences.

2. Brand activism should be genuine.

Brand activism may be (or not) appealing to many brands and companies because of its potential to have a deeper connection and engagement with their consumers. Yet, brands should see to it that if they do decide to take a stand on an issue, it should be done from the heart of the company. What is the sense of taking a stand on women empowerment if the brand still uses stereotypical models of beauty? What is the use of showing happy faces at the store counter if the company is found to have labor issues?

For many brands, activism is already a part of their DNA. And this is why all brands and companies should first go back to their core values. Even if they do not produce campaigns that take a stand at anything, constant promotion of their values should make consumers identify more with their brands.

3. Take some time to introspect and reflect.

Before taking on brand activism, answer the following questions:

  • Do we really have a say on a specific issue? Is the issue aligned with our brand and company’s core values? Can we truly uphold our stand on this issue?
  • Are our core values and value proposition aligned with those of the consumers’?
  • What will be the consequences of taking a stand? Will we alienate more consumers or engage them more? Backlash is imminent, so how do we handle it? Are we prepared to stand by our convictions?
  • Whatever the answer to these questions may be for the brand or company, always go back to how genuine and authentic you truly are.

Brand activism is an opportunity for brands and companies to engage on a deeper level with their consumers. Brands who will do this with sincere intentions of doing good work will inspire loyal customers, while those who don’t may be found out and face the consequences.

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