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The Rise of Brand Activism in the Digital Age

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The Rise of Brand Activism in the Digital Age

Historically, most brands were marketed on performance characteristics such as “our toothpaste is better than your toothpaste.” They positioned themselves as “better at whitening teeth, preventing cavities, or giving you fresh breath.”

Positioning is not sufficient anymore in our highly competitive markets today. You should consider marketing to millennials, who comprise one of today’s most influential demographic groups. Millennials expect brands to be innovative and provide an exceptional customer experience. Millennials live in a society surrounded by constant problems – air pollution from cars, bad drinking water, and lack of social inclusion. More and more people want companies to care about their communities and our world. There is a growing desire for jobs that have a more significant meaning than profit-making

The Body Shop was among the first companies to broadcast its ethical values and beliefs. The founder and CEO of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick, was not only interested in making excellent skin care products, but she also cared about animal rights, civil rights, fair trade, and environmental protection. Many Body Shop clients said they were mainly interested in the products, but many more approved of her activism and often gathered together to march for the cause they shared.

What Is Brand Activism?

Brands are becoming more vocal about their beliefs. They are reaching out to customers and sharing stories about how they care about other people and the environment. These brands can gain loyal followers and advocates by creating authentic relationships with customers.

In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in brand activism. Brands are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility towards society and the environment. They’re taking action to create positive change and using social media platforms to spread awareness and encourage others to get involved too.

In their book titled “Brand Activism: From Purpose To Action,” Philip Kotler and Chris­tian Sarkar define brand activism in the following manner:

“Brand Activism consists of businesses’ efforts to promote, impede or direct social, political economic or environmental reform or stasis, with the desire to promote, impede or drive improvements in society; it’s driven by a fundamental concern about the biggest and most urgent issues facing society.”

Brand activism uses social media platforms to express opinions or ideas about social and political issues. This type of marketing has become extremely popular over the last couple of decades because consumers want to see their favorite brands stand up for the causes they believe in.

Brand activism includes business efforts to promote, hinder, or immediate social, economic, and environmental reforms or stasis to promote or impede societal improvements.

This brand activism is a natural evolution beyond the values-driven Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) programs that are, frankly, too slow. Brand activism is also a step beyond purpose – why does the business exist – because it is directed towards the common good.

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Examples of Brand Activism

Many examples of brand activism are happening today, but here are three of my favorites.

#1 Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan

Unilever has been working hard to reduce plastic waste since 2010. They created a new sustainable living plan to reduce packaging and increase recycling rates. Their #PlasticFree campaign encourages us to think carefully before buying single-use plastics.

They’ve introduced a range of reusable bottles and cups, including ones made out of bamboo. And they’re encouraging us to recycle more by offering discounts if we bring back empty containers.

#2 Nike’s Fueled By Voices Program

Nike launched the Fueled By Voices program in 2016. It aims to inspire young athletes to achieve their goals by providing them with opportunities to share their stories online.

Through the program, Nike connects kids with sports coaches and mentors who want to support them. These coaches and mentors then write inspirational messages on shoes sold under the Nike umbrella.

#3 Coca-Cola’s Fair Trade Campaign

Coca-Cola recently announced that it would begin selling fair trade drinks in Europe. Many big brands, such as Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s, have already started doing this. But Coke was the first major company to do this.

Their fair trade initiative means that farmers are paid fairly for their crops, and communities benefit from increased economic stability.

#4 Patagonia’s Conservation Ethics

Patagonia is committed to conserving the environment. Patagonia wants people to use and reuse their clothes and eventually give them away to someone else who needs them.

They promote a short film on their site about one of America’s last wild areas and the people who live there. Alaskan Native people have depended on caribou migrating through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for hundreds of generations.

As the traditional culture of the Gwich’in people continues to be threatened by oil extraction and global warming, women are fighting to protect their land and future.

Why Is Brand Activism so Essential?

In the early 2000s, millennials and Gen Z influenced more businesses to support social causes. Both generations are heavily engaged in the digital world, publicizing social issues through the internet. Brands can show their social responsibility by supporting social causes through social media. Companies can use Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to stand in solidarity for a reason. Still, they can also use their influence and reach to educate consumers about why an issue is relevant and vital to them.

Brand activism can affect company consumption as well. Consumers tend to support brands that support similar issues to their own. Brand activism can come in many forms, including advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsements, nonprofit partnerships, or public donations.

Making Sense of Brand Activism

Which domains of categories fall under the umbrella of brand activism?

We identify six areas where we can find similarities among all:

  • Social activism involves areas such as equality – including gender, sexual orientation, race, age, religion, etc. It also includes societal issues like education, school funding, and others.
  • Legal activism involves the study of the laws and policies that affect companies, including tax, workplace, and employee relations laws.
  • Business activism is about business – how businesses are organized, how they make money, how they treat their workers, how they deal with unions, etc.
  • Economic activism may include policies such as minimum wage and taxation that affect income inequality and the redistribution of financial resources.
  • Political activism covers lobbying and voting rights.
  • Environmental activism deals with protecting the environment, land use, air, and water pollution law, and policy.

Should Your Brand Become An Activist?

Brands have always had a responsibility to give back to society. Still, they are taking it a step further by actively promoting essential issues through social media, communication, and policy or programs. The idea behind brand activism is that consumers want to support businesses that share their values. So there are good and wrong reasons for making your brand an activist. On the good side, you and your people believe in a cause and want to put the economic power of your brand behind it.

On the other side of the range, you might decide to transform your brand into an activist one because your target group has an affinity with a specific cause. In this case, the peril is that lack of authenticity could derail your brand efforts with those consumers, and in general, there is a risk of a PR disaster on the horizon.


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Cases compilated and reviewed by Clutch