Brand Activism: Stand for Something, Before Taking a Stand
“Those who stand for nothing, fall for everything”
It’s been quite a year so far for brand activism. COVID-19 took hold in early March, prompting beer brands to make hand sanitizer, luxury fashion brands face masks and Dyson created a hospital ventilator in just 10 days. Then, thanks to record sales from e-comm and a spate of panic buying and stocking up, grocery chains started giving big bonuses to their staff and donating $millions to support the frontline and local communities. Oh, and Dolphins returned to Venice (but not really – it transpired).
More recently, shareholders worth a collective $620 billion, pressured Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to terminate their business relationships with the Redskins unless the team agreed to change its name (which it has subsequently agreed to do). Raging right now more than 200 big brand spenders have boycotted facebook over its handling of hate speech, and misinformation which has risen into the #stophateforprofit campaign. Here’s the list.
Regardless, we’re living in unprecedented times.
“The change coming will be as radical as the 60s. People will demand action: Change now or we burn the place down” (Research Respondent)
As Dr. Arlo Brady, CEO of Freuds, (who conducted the research quoted above ) comments; “The recent rise of backyard activism is vital and it can often act as a ‘gateway drug’ for action on the Global Goals. Gen Z gets hooked on impact, much like a gondola-end BOGO deal in the supermarket that you spy from the street, it pulls you in”.
Take Ben & Jerry’s. The brand has been praised where so many others have been criticized because the company and its leaders have been doing the hard work of racial justice advocacy for decades. It has long funded and built relationships with movement leaders, giving the company a credible platform to use its voice — and be heard — when police violence against Black Americans spilled into the streets, yet again.
Mark Ritson puts it this way; “ We make change by enacting it within our organizations and therefore becoming the exemplars for others. If you care about black lives, you don’t get inspired by an Instagram post. You get inspired by black faces in the boardroom. Companies need to become the change they are tweeting about. Walk the walk before you tweet the tweet. (Though that second step really isn’t necessary.)”
If the engine of commerce, fueled by social innovation and kept in check by an ever more conscious consumer can create sustainable, scalable solutions for what the world needs and what people want, then brands can (and ostensibly should) become the most powerful instruments for change the world has ever seen. Now that’s activism in our book.
Author: Phil White, Co-Founder & CSO. 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 work with brands, retailers and non-profits to articulate purpose, activate brands and accelerate impact, often at retail.