World Social Justice Day: Brands Take Action to Educate and Inspire Consumers

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By Kevin Walther, Senior Account Executive

Immigration. Climate Change. The White House administration. Today’s political and social environment is ripe for consumer activism. Since the beginning of 2016, one in five Americans have participated in some form of political rally. It’s no surprise that today’s consumer also looks to their brands – from the clothes they wear to the food they eat – with an expectation of accountability.

With high expectations to demonstrate values and social good, brands can no longer expect to sit on the sidelines. To cut it in today’s marketplace and earn consumers’ trust, they must adhere to the new normal: taking a stand on social issues. From Nike’s campaign with Colin Kaepernick and Ben & Jerry’s activist ice cream flavor to Airbnb’s We Accept campaign on immigration, there is no shortage of ways mainstream companies are entering political and social conversations.

In the new groundswell of activism, consumers are hyper-engaged on social justice issues – and they want business to join in the fight. Nearly four out of five Americans believe companies should be working to tackle social justice issues, according to 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study.

As we recognize World Social Justice Day and uphold the core tenants of humanity, businesses should contemplate standing up for justice in whichever way possible. When evaluating when and how to enter the conversation, it is important to identify and engage in issues that appeal to both the company’s values and core customer base. Consider these tips before entering the conversation:

  • Act on a Relevant Issue: Understanding which issues a brand can – and should not – touch is critical before entering the conversation. Considerations include relevancy to the business, stakeholder impact and employee feedback. Consider Patagonia’s best-in-class campaign The President Stole Your Land. This communication represented what Patagonia stands for as a clothing retailer and advocate for the outdoors, reinforcing its commitment to public lands and conservation and building on the brand’s purpose. Patagonia leveraged its full marketing power – including its C-Suite, a homepage takeover and social media channels – with a passionate, authentic voice to accompany the brand’s efforts. If a brand isn’t positioned to act authentically, the result can backfire.

  • Secure the Backend: Brands that act before their backend programs are secure can face challenges. Take Audi’s Superbowl ad inspiring gender equity in the workplace. The commercial caused invited viewers to explore Audi’s own history of women in the workplace, causing backlash against the brand for not doing enough to promote women in leadership roles. This isn’t exclusive to Audi; many companies tout thought-provoking ads without the necessary social impact programs to back up its stance. In fact, 65 percent of Americans are willing to do their own research to see if a brand is being authentic when it takes a stand. A similar conversation occurred with State Street Global Advisors’ Fearless Girl, which took an aggressive stand on women’s empowerment. In light of controversy about unequal pay, the company acknowledged its ongoing journey toward workplace equity.

  •  Articulate Broader Purpose: Today, consumers have high expectations from brands, and Purpose continues to be a critical way to differentiate: 77% of consumers feel a stronger emotional connection to Purpose-driven companies. As brands tackle what it means to be activist-minded, consider how to support important issues that ladder back to the brand’s Purpose. What do we stand for as a brand? What do our customers value from us? How can we uniquely be positioned to lead? If these go unanswered, practitioners should question whether the brand should take any steps at all.

Addressing social justice issues is no easy feat, but when executed in an authentic way, brands can create long-lasting stakeholder, consumer and employee bonds that show the true meaning behind the company. Learn more how we can help companies respond to increasing stakeholder pressure and stand up for societal issues taking center stage.