Hate is complex and multi-faceted. Merriam Webster defines it as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury,” and “extreme dislike or disgust.” It is “to feel extreme enmity toward, to regard with active hostility.” This definition points to some of the underlying forces behind breaking hate social injustice and intolerance. What you might nor realize however is that most of us are complicit in how it manifests and spreads and brands are taking much more of a stand to break hate.

To get a sense, just scan the news headlines or social media. Hate, spreads exactly like a virus. It exists everywhere on earth and infects everything it comes into contact with and it can have a very different effect and outcome on one person vs. another. Hate spreads in the same way – by taking hold and ‘inserting its genetic material into the host and taking over that host’s functions’. 

Thanks to social media and the algorithms that determine on our behalf what is trending and most relevant, hate can be transmitted in a single click. Indeed, Sascha Baron Cohen, whose entire career has been built by using humor, satire and stereotypes to highlight where bigotry and hate exist in plain sight, has made this the topic of his speech to the Anti-Defamation League after being presented with the International Leadership Award in November last year.

Another area where intolerance towards the other often stirs up a frenzy of propaganda and fake news is of course politics. A poll recently conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal in the US found that one of the few ideas Americans have in common are that we are a remarkably divided nation. The survey found that 8 of 10 people polled say they believe the country is “mainly” or “totally” divided. That’s 80 percent agreement on a single topic in a country that is split 50/50 (or something close to it) on a wide range of issues.

America these days is not a happy place. Even though the economy is up, polarization is at an all-time high, and a feeling of malaise, or worse, grips the nation.

“Politicians can set the tone of tolerance and unity, and they can also set the tone of division and violence,” Nihad Awad, CAIR

More in Common is a relatively new international initiative, set up in 2017 to build communities and societies that are stronger, more united and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarization and social division. Their approach is to develop and deploy positive narratives that tell a new story of ‘us’, celebrating what we all have in common rather than what divides us and connect people on a large scale and across lines of difference, through events and campaigns. While they are just getting started, More in Common has already established national hubs in the UK, US, France and Germany and has published early findings from the first stages of their work.

“Let’s get together, let’s get to know one another. I think that’s the only way to see others as a human being. No less, no more but as a human being. Having that one-on-one interaction, having that social interaction,” –Fatih Harpci, teacher at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI

The nonprofit I Am Your Protector is a community of people who speak out and stand up for one another across dimensions of religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Through their work, they transcend perceived lines of division between different communities and endeavor to change the way people view the “other”. They share knowledge, stories, and tools to inspire people to become each other’s protectors. I

In consultation with the United Nations office of Partnerships, they are partnering with Grounded World and a coalition of creative thinkers from world renowned brand activation agencies to solve these issues on a larger scale. Using ExO (exponential) design sprints – the kind of approach that Unicorns start-ups have embraced to grow and accelerate 10x faster than their peers and disrupt their industry – campaign ideas and social enterprise solutions will be co-created in early February at the Centre for Social Innovation in New York . The winning concepts will then be pitched to the impact investment community to help fund, launch and execute at scale in early April.

Dani Veradi – Founder and Executive Director of I Am Your Protector says:

Today, as narratives that lead to fear and suspicion are rising, it is critical to both highlight the stories of Protectors and share the tools to help us all rise-up together as each other’s Protectors. When people are protected by their perceived enemy, it melts hate.”

She goes on to say; The root cause of indiscriminate hatred is built on the cumulative depiction of a group as being a monolithic block, and that this block represents a threat. Transformation happens when people are exposed to stories of Protectors, from communities often depicted as a threat – who have crossed over to perform a selfless act to help another, often in the face of extreme danger or personal risk. These stories can start to undermine hate and challenge perceptions that a particular group represents a threat.”

It is clear however, that government initiatives and nonprofits alone are not enough to take the conversation mainstream and influence behavior. Social injustice and intolerance has now become so much a part of the cultural conversation of our time that brands have taken a stand – and have been doing rather well out of it too. Take Heineken, Nike and Benetton by way of example:

Heineken released Worlds Apart: back in 2017 – a campaign promoting openness and exploring how common ground can unite people (even if it may seem like there are no obvious commonalities). This social experiment, documented in a film, required strangers who had opposing beliefs on topics like feminism and climate change to work in pairs to complete a menial challenge. Once the participants had completed the challenges, the brand revealed their opposing opinions and gave them the option to either walk away or stay and discuss their differences over a beer.

The campaign was not only about creating awareness but also action through a partnership with The Human Library, a not-for-profit organization that challenges prejudice and stereotypes through conversations with its ‘books’ – real people with extraordinary stories (transgender, mental illness, refugee). The Human Library’s mission is to break down prejudice by helping people to look beyond labels and find common ground with one another.

Similarly, Nike sent shockwaves around the world in a matter of minutes with its 30th anniversary ad campaign by standing up to racial injustice. 

The Kaepernick creative, print, tv & digital pieces featured Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL quarterback famously protested police brutality & racism in sports by kneeling as the national anthem played before each game, which lead to him being boycotted from the NFL. The campaign was decorated by the ad industry, but caused backlash among consumers including a boycott, a trending Twitter hashtag, and viral tweets of customers cutting the Nike swoosh off of their stuff. Meanwhile, Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, called the campaign “an attack on the country”.

Nike’s choice to use Colin Kaepernick’s activism as the face of its campaign isn’t all that surprising though. Not only does activism often raise a brand’s profile (one study showed that about two-thirds of consumers thought it was at least somewhat important for brands to take a stand on social issues), but Nike is about “winning” at all costs – famously captured in the line ‘just do it’. And they most certainly did.

Benetton, the Italian fashion brand known for its provocative campaigns also launched a new global gender equality campaign for International Women’s Day (8 March, 2017) marking the first time Benetton has rolled out a global initiative based on a local campaign.

Called ‘United by Half’ the Indian market push debuted on Valentine’s Day, seeking to promote greater equality for women within their relationships. The film depicts men and women as equal partners and shows couples who are unrestricted by social taboos, some of which are still common in India and other developing markets. So far the film has been viewed over 7.7 million times, with over 12 million people engaging on Benetton’s social and digital properties.

It would appear then that we are on well into an era of brand activism. One that transcends traditional methods and brings individuals, groups and brands together for the common goal of peace and justice (SDG 16) Here at Grounded World we are looking forward to seeing the benefits of this amazing partnership with I am Your Protector. We believe the future lies in open, creative coalitions between brands and non-profits as a model for transformational change and impact.

Grounded is a unique collection of social innovators, content creators and brand activators – thriving at the intersection of brand experience, commercial strategy and social impact. We help brands, retailers and non profits articulate their purpose, activate their brand and accelerate their impact through exponential thinking, commercial innovation and social enterprise. For more information visit us at www.grounded.world or send us a note

With special thanks to our Design Sprint and Creative Coalition Partners: Geometry, Epsilon, TPN, TracyLocke, HiRoad and SY Partners.