The Marketing Trend That Nobody Talked About: Brand Activism

equality nike campaign

Why brand activism is the only trend marketers forgot to talk about and why it’s an important issue today?

There is that moment of the year when every writer is looking for what will be the trend in the next year. Starting November, my Twitter and Facebook feed was flooded with these words that make almost everybody click on them. I read the big publishers’ articles and other influencers opinion about what will be the trend in digital marketing and social media in 2017. I spent hours and almost days on reading those articles that repeat from each other, but nobody said something about “brand activism”.

This word that made a lot of marketers change their strategy, look beyond a PR campaign or a social media strategy.

When The Guardian wrote the article “Sex doesn’t sell anymore, activism does.” I did not want to click on that link.

Even if many of my marketers friends shared on their Facebook page or got in my Nuzzel newsletter several days in a row.

Brands + Activism = ?

TV2 Denmark brand activism

TV2Danmark created a video that they showed to the entire digital community bringing a new question in our head. Do we all have more in common than we think? They put here the little tribes together in different squares and called them in front of everyone. There were tribes with soccer supporters, nurses, gangs, bodybuilders and other minorities.

But then somebody called them in front asking who was the clown in their classrooms. And people from these squares came together in from on everyone. The ones that believe in life after death. The ones who are stepparents. Tears, smiles and happiness  on their faces.

But the description of the YouTube video is saying something that can be called a brief for many advertising agencies:

We live in a time where we quickly put people in boxes.

But there was a moment when it made a click in my head: when Nike launched their campaign #Equality featuring their top ambassadors along with Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Serena Williams, Alicia Keys or Michael B. Jordan and other big names.

It was Nike’s first move after they announced a partnership with world-class organization PeacePlayers International and Mentor: The National Mentorship Partnership.

But it’s not all about the visual campaign. Nike is also donating $5 million in 2017 to “numerous organizations that advance equality in communities across the U.S.”

Although Nike is not the only one that making their brand activism statement by donating money.

The Lyft’s CEO Logan Green seized the opportunity about #deleteUBER to announce the community of followers using Twitter that his company will donate $1m to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).

AirBnB CEO, Brian Chesky, used Twitter to announce that “Airbnb is providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US. Stay tuned for more, contact me if urgent need for housing”

And they also uploaded their video campaign called “We accept” with a simple landing page where they started an open letter from Brian with the next sentences “We believe in the simple idea that no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong.” Also challenging their community to share their homes or donate to the cause.

At the beginning of 2017, an article published on Fast Company, predicted a trend in brand for 2017 (it was interesting that almost none of the Marketing Specialists or Gurus I follow on Facebook/ Twitter shared this piece of content).

PR? CSR? Marketing? Branding? Trends? Is this the wagon moment where a brand should jump in and make a bigger statement?

Is this brand activism?

What is brand activism?

Looking at these strategies, ads and campaigns we can surely outline what they are trying to answer on Philip Kotler’s (the father of modern marketing) question:

What are you doing as a brand to make the world a better place?

But then, there are the brands that are using their platform to make a more powerful statement. Some of these big brands are using their influencers to be their voice within communities. And some brands that are donating millions of dollars to different causes.

Brand activism vs CSR

Some of us may confuse the difference between brand activism and CSR (corporate social responsibility) and this is why I want to find out which is the difference between them.

The internet is full of evidences why a company needs a CSR and other specialists are evangelizing this idea at conferences and even books. But what about the ones that are behind these activities?

Talking with Andreea Nastase, Senior Strategist at Poke London about these 2 points helped me have a better understanding of the matter.

In a very loose sense I would think of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives as those activities or series of initiatives that companies (corporations) do in order to benefit a community or the world at large.” says Andreea about CSR.

But on the other hand…

“Activism by its name suggests a slightly more active, militant attitude towards something. Brand activism fits in this newer brand and communications school of thought, which is roughly “the do things and tell people about it” approach. In the old world, brands communicated rational and emotional benefits. In the new world, brands have a higher-order purpose beyond service or products, they do activities or initiatives things that reflect this purpose, and then communicate that to consumers.”

…then she completes with an example of a big brand.

Unilever can have all the CSR initiatives they want behind the scenes, but people in their target audience will see a branded ‘Speak Beautiful’ programme sooner than they will anything that the people at Unilever corporate HQ get involved in.

But there is a catch in this brand activism, and here’s the role of social media.

What role does social media play in brand activism?

Social media gave a voice to the customer. If you are a brand and you want to make a statement, using ads or other campaigns that can bring you some press coverage or a bigger brand awareness, do not think that the social media won’t answer to it.

Many brands who advertised during the Super Bowl 51 used the same theme – gender equality, diversity or community inclusions, there were just a few ideas that the advertising specialists build their entire campaign on.

Audi super bowl ad

Some of them had some problems, like Audi who faced criticism on social media for gender equality. And according to a research by Networked Insights, there have been almost 4,580 comments made about the Audi commercial on Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms as of mid-day Thursday.

And 25% of the comments have been negative while 13% have been positive. via The Wall Street Journal

But that doesn’t mean that social media is having a bad influence on brand activism.

There are those CEOs that are using Twitter to make an announcement. This is why Nike is launching the “Equality” campaign that will be featured not only on YouTube, but on other platforms like billboards and posters in U.S. and Canada.

Other brands are using their CEOs open letters to make their brand activism standpoint.

Just think about Starbucks chairman and CEO who wrote an open letter to his staff by telling them “We are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business…” as a response immigration ban by Donald Trump.

Or let’s not forget about what Mark Zuckerberg said in his Note about communities and how Facebook Groups create an environment for refugees

In Berlin, a man named Monis Bukhari runs a group where he personally helps refugees find homes and jobs…

But nobody can condemn that, right? If this is how they make the world better, then let them do it.

On the other hand, I believe that brands should be more focus on their audience and community, or as Guy Kawasaki said in an interview

…never expect customers to do something that you wouldn’t do.

I don’t believe that we should look at brand activism as something as a new marketing or branding trends. There has always been activism driven by brands, but sometimes there was at a small scale and now it’s at a bigger scale.

The most important question will always be the “Why?” – Why we are doing this as a brand? Why we making this statement? Why we are aligning with this mission?

And as Andreea said

…you do align yourself with a cause that’s close to your heart – if you discover, in time, that you picked the wrong cause and your brand perceptions don’t change, then what’s going to happen to the charity or movement you just backed? Do you suddenly decide to pull out because of a poor fit? That will always reflect pretty poorly on you.

Or maybe brand activism is just a moment trend and next week we will talk about another one?

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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