Brands & Politics

What happens when theoretical concepts like brand purpose collide with the realities of social unrest, polarization and conflict? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • These days it’s not uncommon to see headlines about brand activism.
  • Think Ben and Jerry’s pulling out of Israel and clashing with parent company Unilever.
  • Or Toyota pulling their Olympic ads over pandemic safety concerns.
  • Or Coca-Cola’s belated response to Georgia voting laws.
  • Or this Times profile of an up-and-coming coffee company positioning itself as Starbucks for the right.
  • It hasn’t always been this way. Traditionally, brands and politics were like church and state. Clear separation was the ideal and co-mingling was relatively rare.
  • But as polarization and pressure for social change amp up, staying one the sidelines has become more difficult.
  • Research by Edelman found that nearly two thirds of consumers worldwide will buy or boycott brands based on their position on social issues.
  • But other research shows that consumers are skeptical about brands trying to make the world a better place. Expectations are high. But if brands fall short, consumers will quickly move on.
  • This particular mode of falling short is known woke-washing. It’s an easy trap to fall into, even if your intentions are good.
  • So what’s a marketing leader to do? It’s starts with a decision about whether to weigh in on a given issue.
  • Paul Argenti suggests using these three questions: Does the issue align with your company’s strategy? Can you meaningfully influence the issue? Will your constituencies agree with speaking out?
  • Argenti’s second question is particularly critical. We marketers are great at crafting messages, but messages alone won’t cut it: “It’s not about posting vague statements of solidarity. It’s about action and long-term strategies.”
  • Ultimately, this is bigger than marketing. It’s about the whole organization living its values and investing in real change on the inside, not just external messages.
  • So marketing leaders: don’t go it alone. Your role is to connect commitment on the inside to audiences on the outside. If that internal commitment isn’t there, you’re on your way to woke-washing.
Issue #123
Jul 24, 2021

Further Reading