Get Your Voice Heard with Brand Activism
From our social media feeds to the water cooler at work, political conversation is everywhere. Most of us don’t think twice about sharing our personal opinions. But deciding whether to have an opinion as a brand is tricky. Do it well and you’ll gain respect from fans and attention from the media. Get it wrong and you risk alienating everyone and damaging the reputation you’ve worked hard to build.
A growing number of brands are making their political views public. Some are even joining forces to make their voices louder. In 2017, Apple, Google and 95 other American tech giants joined forces to file a legal brief against US President Trump’s controversial immigration ban. They argued that the ban, which prohibited migration to America from seven Muslim countries, was unlawful, discriminatory, and bad for business.
This unprecedented show of solidarity between some of the world’s largest companies caught the attention of the world’s media and kicked off a new marketing and PR trend: brand activism.
What is brand activism?
Brand activism is when a brand takes a public stand on a social, environmental, or political issue. A few years ago, this would have been tantamount to brand suicide. But today, customers expect brands to stand for something. According to American PR firm WE Communications, ‘three-quarters of consumers (74%) around the globe now expect brands to take a stand on important issues.’
The stats speak for themselves, and the world has no shortage of problems. But when and how should your brand take a stand? Here are three examples of brands that got it right:
WeWork goes veggie
In 2018, workspace brand WeWork shocked the world by announcing it was going vegetarian. In a statement, co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the company would no longer serve meat at company functions or reimburse employees who ordered burgers at meetings. According to McKelvey, the decision was driven by concerns for the environment. He said ’new research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact. We could save an estimated 445.1 million pounds of CO2 emissions and 15 million animals by 2023 by eliminating meat at our events.’
PR Lesson: If you’re going to take a stand for something, be passionate about it and do it properly. WeWork didn’t make a half-empty gesture: they made a fundamental change to their business. And it didn’t go unnoticed. The story went viral on social media, featured in newspapers around the globe, and won them a Compassionate Business Award from animal rights organisation, PETA.
Jigsaw hearts immigration
In 2017, British fashion brand Jigsaw published a manifesto in response to the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric following the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election. Titled ‘heart immigration,’ it said, ‘British style is not 100% British,’ followed by: ‘In fact, there’s no such thing as 100% British. Or Dutch, French, American, Asian or European.’ It goes on to outline how without immigration, Jigsaw would not be able to do what it does: ‘We need beautiful minds from around the world. Working with beautiful materials from around the world. To make beautiful things for people around the world.’
The campaign was risky considering how divisive the issue of immigration is. But it was a risk worth taking, as Jigsaw’s head of marketing Alex Kelly said in a statement; ‘People don’t need another fashion brand showing pretty pictures and okay clothes. You have to make people feel something. Yes, there’s a risk people won’t agree with the message or think we have the right to talk about it, but we feel like we do.’
The campaign won the brand lots of kudos from fans and the media because the message was simple, but it packed a punch. And it was consistent with their brand values, messaging, and worldview.
Patagonia takes on the President
The announcement enraged the brand, who have campaigned to protect public land for 30 years. In protest, they voiced their disgust on the front page of their website by changing it to a black screen with a simple message: ‘In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.’ It went on to urge people to take to social media, using the hashtag #MonumentalMistakes and protest the order. Eighty thousand people did so in the first 24 hours, and the campaign went viral, with many praising the company for taking the White House to task.
Although the campaign didn’t stop Trump executing his order, it garnered support from media around the globe and kicked off conversations about the importance of preserving public land.