Stop Riding the Fence: Brand Activism is Here to Stay

Posted on December 5, 2018

It’s hard to discuss politics in 2018. We’re all opinionated, and we’re all thinking about it more often than we ever have, but ironically, it’s become increasingly difficult to share those opinions. How do you discuss something that’s on everybody’s mind when that discussion always seems to lead to such levels of anger and vitriol? Is it even worth it? The answer might surprise you. This has been the year of brand activism, and it has been incredibly effective.

The most immediate example that comes to mind is the revitalization of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, with Colin Kaepernick at its center. You might think: “I saw people burning Nike shoes. My great-uncle has stopped watching the NFL. The president tweeted that Nike was getting killed by boycotts and that this was a bad thing to do. It must have failed.” Here’s the twist: they didn’t fail — they boomed big time. Data gathered post-launch revealed that there was “a 61% rise in the amount of sold-out merchandise compared with the 10 days before the launch.” If that’s a failure, then your business should be striving to fail.

Patagonia announced before Black Friday that they would be rebuking the tax credit they earned from Trump administration’s tax cut by donating the 10 million dollars to environmental groups, spitting in the face of the Trump administration’s continued denial of climate change. Patagonia had a wildly successful Black Friday, with the rise credited to the company’s approach to environmentalism.

TOMS shoe company announced a donation of 5 million dollars to various gun control advocacy groups. You might think that TOMS is preaching to the choir, as their target demographic seems to be pretty liberal, but other demographics have been activated by this campaign. Country stars Dierks Bentley and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard have endorsed the campaign, despite being champions of a conservative demographic.

These instances of brand activism are turning heads, and are leading to an unprecedented level of success. This wouldn’t take place if the data didn’t back up the wisdom to engage in these kinds of campaigns, and the data is shocking. Accenture Strategy conducted its Global Consumer Pulse Research and concluded that some “two-thirds (63%) of consumers prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs” and that “62% want companies to take a stand on social, cultural, environmental, and political issues close to their hearts.” “Another 62% say their purchasing consideration is driven by a company’s ethical values and authenticity.” Keep in mind that this was a survey of 30,000 consumers and not a rushed straw poll.

Given this information, perhaps you’re considering employing these tactics. I would suggest treading that water carefully. For every successful moment of brand activism, there are embarrassing failures. Remember when Pepsi posited that Kendall Jenner could cure racism by drinking a Pepsi? You have to be sincere because consumers are smarter than the credit they get. They’ll spot a shameless plug from a mile away. You can’t fake this stuff, and quite frankly you shouldn’t. If anything good can be taken from this political hellscape, it’s that honesty has become a treasured commodity. You must be honest.

Brands are increasingly willing to modernize and acknowledge an increasingly diverse consumer base. The data shows that it’s working, so perhaps it’s time for your brand to stop sitting on the fence, and start engaging with a customer base that’s more activated than ever.