Strategy

The Role of Brand Activism

By
The Desiree Team
August 14, 2023
IMAGE CREDIT - GETTY
The role of brand activism is a subject of ongoing debate, with discussions centered around whether it represents genuine social change or opportunistic marketing. Let us delve into both perspectives to gain a comprehensive understanding of this complex issue.

The role of brand activism is a subject of ongoing debate, with discussions centred around whether it represents genuine social change or opportunistic marketing. Let us delve into both perspectives to gain a comprehensive understanding of this complex issue.

Research conducted by Sprout Social found that 66% of consumers want brands to take stands on political and social issues.

On one hand, brand activism can be seen as a legitimate driver of social change. When companies take a firm stance on significant social or environmental issues, they can leverage their influence, resources, and expansive reach to foster meaningful impact. By utilising their platforms to raise awareness, advocate for causes, and support relevant initiatives, companies can contribute to positive change and help address societal problems.

Genuine brand activism necessitates the alignment of a company's values with the causes they support. It requires a sincere commitment to the chosen cause, investment in sustainable practices, and endeavours to drive change beyond mere marketing campaigns. When brands actively work towards their stated goals, engage in responsible business practices, and collaborate with relevant stakeholders, their activism can result in tangible improvements.

And in a Porter Novelli study, executives said that companies “must address” sexual harassment (97%), racial equality (93%), women’s rights (89%), domestic job growth (86%), and privacy and security issues (84%).


AirBnB “We Accept” Super Bowl ad spoke out against the Trump administration’s travel ban while addressing discrimination across the company’s platform.


On the other hand, skeptics argue that brand activism can also be viewed as opportunistic marketing. They contend that some companies engage in activism primarily for strategic purposes, such as enhancing their reputation, attracting consumers, and bolstering sales. This approach, often referred to as "cause marketing" or "woke-washing," involves capitalising on popular social issues without making substantial commitments or driving meaningful change.

Critics raise concerns that certain brands may engage in superficial activism by leveraging social issues as marketing tools, without genuinely addressing the underlying problems. They may prioritise promoting their brand image over implementing substantial structural changes within their operations. Consequently, consumers may become skeptical and backlash against such perceived insincerity and inauthentic brand activism efforts.

In a Cone Communications study, 87% of respondents claimed that they have purchased a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about.

Determining whether brand activism represents genuine social change or opportunistic marketing can be challenging, as motivations and intentions can vary across companies. While some brands are genuinely committed to making a positive impact and allocate resources towards addressing social and environmental challenges, others may prioritise marketing tactics over substantive change.

To evaluate the authenticity of a brand's activism, several factors should be considered. These include assessing the company's transparency and consistency in aligning their actions with their stated values, evaluating the tangible impact of their initiatives beyond marketing campaigns, considering their engagement and collaboration with relevant stakeholders, and examining their accountability for any negative impacts they may have.

It is essential for consumers, activists, and society as a whole to critically evaluate brand activism and hold companies accountable for their actions. By demanding transparency, consistency, and genuine efforts to drive social change, it is possible to encourage brands to engage in meaningful activism rather than mere opportunistic marketing.

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