Brand activism: When companies take political opinions

Brand activism is a new strategy for decisive change, as it shapes a new future by using marketing activities to exert political pressure

Brand Activism Neon People Do something great
Gucci Dan Les Rues - Source & Copyright Gucci

Author: Lara-Sophie Buckow

  • Companies activate values ​​and make them tangible
  • Political activism as a new form of communication
  • Purpose in line with making profit

With the increasing interest of society in the limited resources of nature, climate change and the fight against inequality new expectations are set for companies and brands. Brand activism is seen as a new strategy to convince young consumers and make a real difference.

Marketing strategies are shifting

While it is no longer enough to advertise products as better, more effective or cheaper, consumers today are looking for products that embody values. It's nothing new to marketers, that branding strategies today must communicate values to be successful. It allows a deeper and more meaningful connection with consumers.

However, in order for consumers to be able to see and understand a company's values, these have to be activated and experienced. In addition, the company's use of political activism has become a new way of communicating the brand identity, going beyond than just making profit. But how does brand activism differ from already known strategies like CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and CRM (cause-related marketing)?

For example, already in 2104, Chanel has campaigned a women's rights runway protest, initiated by Karl Lagerfeld. Gucci also publicly protested against gun violence in 2018, after an incident in which two of its employees were murdered in a club in Florida. In another artistic campaign, "Gucci Dans Les Rues", the luxury brand captured the spirit of the student movement in Paris in May 1968.

Corporate social responsibility as a must have

Milton Friedman declared in 1970 that it was impossible for a company follow any other goal besides increasing profits. Only individuals can establish social responsibility based on their own personal values. However, consumers, government regulation, and other stakeholders continually influence companies to do more than just making money. Corporate Social Responsibility is no longer an option these days, but a must have.

CSR measures can include environmentally friendly business practices, improve the social situation of employees and suppliers, or support projects in less developed countries. The commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals is a typical CSR measure. With CSR, a company wants to show that it gives something back to society. Through such measures, companies hope to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction as well as a better reputation for their brand.

Surveys confirm: 77% of global consumers believe that companies should increase their contribution to society. 73% would recommend companies that follow the CSR idea. Although CSR has not traditionally been part of a successful business, today's companies have recognized the importance of its practice, especially as it is considered essential by most consumers.

Cause-related marketing to raise awareness

While most companies include a CSR strategy, other companies have geared their entire business structure to a more drastic strategy: cause-related marketing (CRM). The sale of such products is associated with a specific purpose. For each product sold, a certain amount or product is donated to an organisation that is committed to the cause.

The promotional strategy surrounding CRM is to encourage consumers to fight the cause by purchasing the company's products. Therefore, these companies not only donate money, but also act as awareness-raising agents. Often it is about social or environmental issues. Issues that appeal to the hearts of consumers. Through CRM, consumers are able to realise their own moral identity. The consumer is emotionally bound to the brand and therefore supports its cause and business through purchases, brand loyalty and advocacy.

Cause related marketing campaign One for One by TOMS

One for one: For every pair of shoes sold, another one will be donated, Source & Copyright by TOMS

Brand activism

While CSR and CRM are both methods of showing the values ​​and morals of a company, brand activism goes one step further. An active position is taken on a cultural, ecological, social or gender-specific topic that corresponds to the values ​​of the company. The most common and most effective method is the political statement via their own marketing and advertising channels. In this way the position can be communicated to society in order to combat the problems.

The driving factor of brand activism is a big issue that seeks justice as well as fairness. However, it is even more important to get in touch with consumers on a very emotional level and thereby create customer loyalty and association. The purpose is to stimulate larger debates to challenge the status quo as well as innovatively change society. Brand activism is implemented correctly when the brand is perceived as an important contributor for raising awareness and fighting the cause.

These are the goals of brand activism

Since brand activism usually takes place on a large playing field and has the intention of creating high level of awareness for the cause and the brand, it has to tackle a topic that is worth investing in marketing and communication budgets. Therefore, brand activism and the decision to take a stand should evoke two main emotions.

  1. Create attraction for the topic and an understanding of its importance in today's society
  2. Consumers should feel frustrated that such an initiative is still necessary for this issue

While a brand naturally hopes to increase sales and profits through all of its activities, including brand activism, the main goal here should be to stand up for those who cannot do it themselves and bring positive change for a better future. However, by this way, brands make themselves vulnerable as they move outside their usual comfort zone. This harbors risks such as loss of customers and boycotts.

Brand activism for more sustainability

The strategy of exerting political pressure has become known worldwide primarily through Nike's "Dream Crazy" campaign in collaboration with NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Marketing activism is suitable for many topics, including the fight against climate change and for more sustainability.

Dream Crazy campaign by Nike with Colin Kaepernick

Source & Copyright by Nike

Patagonia - Don't buy this jacket

Since it was founded Patagonia has stood for sustainable as well as long-lasting outdoor products and takes a clear stand against fast fashion. However, these measures are insufficient for Patagonia. Repeatedly, the brand relies on provocative marketing campaigns. So it did on November 25.11.2011, XNUMX, on Black Friday, the big discount sale day from the United States. Over an entire page in the New York Times, Patagonia used the advertising space to highlight the effects of such a buying frenzy.

By showing the headline "Don't buy this jacket", it was probably the only company that encourages consumers to buy less. Although the goal was not achieved, as the brand increased sales by 30%, the campaign has raised strong awareness for slow fashion and the customers consumption behavior.

Advertisement from Patagonia with the headline Don't buy this jacket

Source & Copyright Patagonia & The New York Times

The nu company - Food for a nu world

Since 2016 the German start-up the nu company has supported a green and healthy change in the food industry. But that's not all. On October 16, 2020, the company published its open letter to the German Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection in the famous Spiegel magazine. With this campaign, as well as numerous advertising posters all over Germany and social media posts, the company tried provocatively to draw attention to the problematic conditions within the food industry. It is time to make a change and no longer wait for someone else to do something in the distant future.

Open letter in the mirror from the nu company

Source & Copyright the nu company

Related topics: Innovative food start-ups are changing the food industry

Political change through pressure from the economy

In many areas, experts have long warned that it is time for sustainable change. Above all, political regulation enables innovative changes by being forced to change. However, it seems to be more difficult in some areas. Especially newcomers and start-ups are in demand to create new business models. Although they often start small, they do not look back on long-established practices and can have an innovative new start.

Nevertheless, even experienced companies have the opportunity to make a difference with brand activism. Especially younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z are asking for change as well as provocative calls and marketing campaigns. Climate change and its effects have already progressed so farthat it is no longer enough to wait for new legislation. Now is the time to make a difference. Even if that means getting out of your comfort zone and starting a global change.



Always informed about the latest lifestyle trends, architecture, design & interior, as well as current technologies around sustainability.

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