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Hey, everyone, still getting used to the era of millennials, branded content and influencers? Wake up! It’s almost 2018 and there are some new kids in town.

Branded content arose from the need for authentic stories within the millennial target audience. Because brands still find this transition difficult, branded content was degraded to a commercial message in an editorial jacket. You can read more about that, here. After this, branded journalism grew. These are articles and thinkpieces written by brands, made exclusively with the aim to find and touch an audience. Read more about this, here.

Now that GenZ (16-24) have dethroned the ever-influential millennials, it’s time for a new chapter in the content marketing book, marking a new generation: branded activism. This can best be described as independent activist or opinionated content carried by a brand. The term branded activism is also used whenever we talk about purpose marketing. However, I see this as something else: purpose marketing is marketing streaming from the well-known ‘why’ of the brand. We see strong purpose marketing at Tony Chocolonely’s, for example: it’s their mission to make EVERY piece of chocolate a 100 % slave free. Their documentary Tony is a good example of branded journalism, an editorial story about ‘their’ theme.

Branded activism is the facilitation of opinion and discussion about different actual themes like diversity, the refugee crisis, environmental pollution and human rights. So, apart from having your own purpose (which is essential!), brands need to think and brainstorm about these topics and how they act around them.

Why is this necessary? Purpose marketing arose because the conscious millennial expects the same kind of mentality from the brands they use/pick. GenZ goes one step further. They characterize themselves by their woke mentality. Woke? Yes, another term to familiarize yourself with! The term woke is so relevant now that it’s been added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), translating as: ‘alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice.’ Being woke is often associated with an activist attitude: just being conscious doesn’t change anything.

Where millennials demanded purpose from brands, GenZ is looking for companies that identify with their woke mentality. Where do we see this? The criticism facing Uber after their support of Trump shows that even a disorderly brand can be mercilessly punished for making politically unpopular choices. A more local example is the protest around Anna Nooshin and Monica Geuze’s photoshoot for magazine Linda.Meiden. The women were surprised of all the commotion, because it hadn’t been their intention to ‘pretend’ to be gay. This response would have possibly saved them in the millennial era, but GenZ expects influencers especially to be very conscious of the image they’re portraying. Collaboration equals approval.

A time in which brands must be careful and mistakes are easily made calls for a different approach. Maybe doing nothing? If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem – it’s a well-known saying. People and organisations who do not speak out against sexual violence in the #metoo discussion are called out for their lack of accountability. If you’re not woke as a brand, you’re not relevant.

We see this development in the media too: the distrust of traditional media is huge. How impartial is a news channel when it picks certain subjects and avoids others? Now that we know that the NOS gives us a completely different world view than, for example, Al Jazeera does, this pretend impartiality isn’t worth a whole lot anymore. This becomes apparent by the success of media with a distinct opinion like GeenStijl and De Correspondent. Or Zondag met Lubach: a great success because Lubach’s team takes on such a clear point of view and there’s no mystery surrounding the topic. No one claims to be telling the truth, because whoever is woke knows: there is no one truth.

How to embrace this development as a media brand or consumer brand? This quote from the extensive GenZ research by Protein hits the nail right on the head: ‘They’re demanding that brands create spaces, platforms and mediums that champion the oppressed, not exploit their struggle’. Or: GenZ, the most diverse generation ever, doesn’t want to be talked about or talked with, they want to be the ones talking.

Pepsi made the mistake of using the Black Lives Matter movement for a feel-good coke campaign. Hema made the mistake of selling roti that wasn’t roti. All ‘borrowed’ themes, created by the wrong people. Show that your brand knows that dialogue on these subjects is important, by facilitating the conversation. Even if you’re under fire, stop defending yourself and create space for new opinions to be able to learn.

And media brands? Entertaining media brands used to stay far, far away from news and opinions, also because advertisers do not like to pick sides. But publishers begin to understand that by using more substance and going deeper into a story, they fit into the Zeitgeist more. The first brands are following. VICE launched the successful VICE News: news from the perception and experience of the target audience. Teen Vogue (Condé Nast) underwent a true transition, shifting from a focus on looks and celebrities to politics, feminism, identity and activism. On their website, the first category is news and politics, ranking higher than fashion and lifestyle. Shortly, this publisher is launching THEM, an activist platform by the LGBTQ-community, sponsored by Burberry as one of their launching partners.

Nerve-wracking? Terrifying! But if you don’t facilitate the conversation yourself, it will happen elsewhere. You’re taking true risks if you don’t do anything, because this generation controls where they get their inspiration from. And if it’s not there, they will create it themselves. With or without you.

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Juist met de feestdagen moeten supermarkten kleur bekennen

De problematiek vermijden is geen optie. De momenten waarop het identiteitsdebat het hevigst is, is de marketing van supermarkten dat ook.

Voor wie het gemist heeft: er is ophef ontstaan rondom de kerstcommercials van de vier grote supermarkten Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Plus en Lidl. Als communicatiestrateeg merkte ik aan het begin van deze maand op in Adformatie dat alle supermarkten volledig witte kersttafels laten zien. Later publiceerde NRC het artikel ‘Een witte kerst in de supermarktreclames: nul mensen met een migratieachtergrond‘.

De discussie of het slim zou zijn voor supermarkten die alle Nederlanders aan willen spreken om alleen witte mensen te laten zien, sloeg op internet om naar het niveau ‘moslims vieren geen kerst’ en ‘ga terug naar je eigen land’.

Iedere discussie leidt ons naar het grotere identiteitsvraagstuk: in welk Nederland willen we leven? Een multicultureel Nederland met tradities die zich ontwikkelen door invloed van nieuwkomers of een Nederland dat van ‘echte’ Nederlanders is, dat stilstaat of liever nog: teruggaat naar ‘vroeger’? Supermarkten zeggen voor verandering te zijn. Ze geven aan diversiteit belangrijk te vinden en dit in hun communicatie te laten zien. Alleen met kerst toevallig niet. Toevallig alle vier niet. En toevallig voor het tweede opeenvolgende jaar niet.

Radiouitzending “dit is de Dag” op NPO Radio 1 op donderdag 20 december 2018

En het veelgehoorde argument? De meeste witte Nederlanders herkennen zich alleen in een volledig witte familie. Alsof herkenning alleen om kleur gaat! Toen ik in de radiouitzending van Dit is de Dag op NPO Radio 1 in debat ging met Joeri Jansen, directeur van Roorda Reclamebureau, maakte ik het punt dat een Marokkaans vriendje aan de kersttafel echt wel voorkomt in Nederland en dus niet onrealistisch te noemen is. Hij reageerde hierop met het veel gebruikte argument “Maar dan gaat de discussie daar over.” Ja, en guess what, nu gaat het hier over. En dat is precies waar merken en reclamemakers zich bewust van moeten zijn. Het debat vindt toch wel plaats, en omdat je als supermarkt onderdeel bent van de samenleving, ben je ook onderdeel van de discussie.

Consumenten zijn steeds bewuster en in toenemende mate maatschappelijk betrokken, en verwachten dezelfde mentaliteit van merken. Alleen beloven dat een merk jou beter, sterker of knapper maakt volstaat niet meer. Consumenten laten zien wie ze zijn en waar ze voor staan door middel van hun aankopen. Dus zijn op zoek naar de belofte dat ze door jouw product een beter mens worden. Mensen kopen niet wat je verkoopt, ze kopen waar je in gelooft.

Als supermarkten het hele jaar diversiteit willen laten zien, waarom dan niet met kerst? Tradities zijn steeds meer trigger events die het publieke debat aanwakkeren. In de luchtige ‘niks aan de hand in ons landje’-aanpak van de kerstcommercials van de supermarkten is duidelijk te zien dat het sentiment rondom het behoud van tradities angstvallig wordt gemeden. Wat de supermarkten proberen, is neutraal te blijven door de witte norm te laten zien. Maar niet kiezen is ook kiezen. “Als je geen onderdeel bent van de oplossing, ben je onderdeel van het probleem” is een uitspraak die zich uitstekend leent om deze tijdsgeest te duiden.

De problematiek vermijden is geen optie, omdat de momenten waarop het identiteitsdebat het hevigst is, ook de marketingmomenten van de supermarkten het hevigst zijn. En voor effectieve marketing is een verhaal nodig dat inspeelt op wat er op dat moment in de maatschappij speelt.

Wat wordt opgevat als een enorm risico, kan ook als kans gezien worden. Door je uit te spreken en ergens voor te gaan staan, kun je een groep mensen effectief aan je binden. Dat een andere groep hierdoor beledigd, gekwetst en afgeschrikt wordt is onvermijdbaar en iets waaraan merken zullen moeten gaan wennen.

Reclame vormt een spiegel van de samenleving, en de reacties op die reclame leggen de polarisatie bloot. Dat die polarisatie gevoed zou worden door de discussie is onzin, het wordt alleen maar meer zichtbaar.

In Engeland kiezen de twee grootste supermarkten duidelijk wel voor inclusie, maar naast waardering en lof is er ook kritiek en dreiging tot boycots. De discussie is dus vergelijkbaar, maar de houding van de supermarkten is heel anders.

Tesco, de grootste supermarkt van Engeland, ontwikkelde een campagne om de verschillende manieren waarop mensen in Engeland kerst beleven te vieren en kwam voornamelijk onder vuur te liggen omdat er moslims in de commercial te zien zijn.

Sainsbury’s snapt dat effectieve communicatie emotioneel moet raken en gaat vol voor de tearjekker-route. Een reclame die niemand onberoerd zal laten, van welke afkomst, kleur, religie of seksuele oriëntatie dan ook, met in de hoofdrol een prachtig zwart meisje. Zij zorgt voor verbinding en daarmee voor herkenning. Sainsbury’s vertelt ons indirect dat het niet gaat om waarin wij van elkaar verschillen, maar om wat ons verbindt. Als dat geen kerstgedachte is.

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No more meatballs at IKEA

At the technology event Websummit in Lisbon the companies can’t stop talking about their mission to contribute towards change. On Tuesday I am attending ‘What does it mean to live a better life within the limits of one planet?’ by Pia Heidenmar Cook, IKEA’s Chief Sustainabilty Officer. She talked about IKEA’s goals for 20/30 (now 20/20 is not far away, many companies quickly change one number in their goal setting documents, hoping to go unnoticed). Goals focusing on people & planet, healthy and sustainable living, circular and climate and social issues.

I notice I find it hard to believe what she is saying. I recognise the words that I have read and written myself too many times before. Promises made too often without any real proof to show for it. So I don’t hear the promises, I don’t see pure intentions.

I only hear what they are not saying. And see what they are not doing. And what in my opinion should be done.

Pia proudly mentioned the vegetarian options in the restaurants. But why do they continue selling their famous meatballs? I looked it up and found IKEA sells around 1 billion meatballs globally every year. Pia did not mention how many cows and pigs it takes to produce these meatballs. No slides on the environmental and social impact of this cheap and unhealthy food production. How can they be serious about environmental issues when they contribute to the problem at this scale?

The general opinion may be that a company should take baby steps, so customers can get used to change slowly. That is all very nice if we would have time, but we all know time is up. A more sustainably society asks for radical change, so if you want to be part of change, and want to inspire your audience to change, you must make radical changes yourself first.

It is not as if I’m asking McDonalds to stop selling burgers. IKEA sells furniture. According to IKEA restaurant creator Sören Hullberg the IKEA sells food, because customers make better purchase decisions on a full stomach. If that is genuine, and let’s assume it is, it will not harm anyone to get rid of meat and fish on the menu because there will still enough stomach filling alternatives.

People will not stop going to IKEA if the company would go vegetarian, simply because there is not enough alternative out there. I heard somebody say earlier that day ‘sometimes it takes famous people to normalize behaviour’. Well, I think we need big corporates to normalize behaviour.Going (at least) vegetarian is a huge opportunity for IKEA to use their influence for positive change. Letting go of their beloved meatballs is the proof IKEA needs to prove their claim of ‘going all in.’ It is a great narrative to build a campaign around with guaranteed media exposure. I only see winners.

If IKEA truly cares about inspiring people to live better lives within the limits of the planet, they will have to lead by example and let their meatballs go. Not before 20/30. Today.

How sincere and credible is activism by brands?

Brands that claim to be ‘woke’ must be consistent

Activist campaigns are springing up like mushrooms. How sincere are these brands? Because until recently, they were still trying to make us feel insecure, unhealthy and miserable.

We live in an attention economy: a time in which the attention of the consumer is worth gold to marketing professionals. They are continuously looking for ways to stay connected with the constantly changing consumer experience. And to understand how you can attract that attention – and hold it, you look at the generation that is at the forefront of the pack – the leaders in development. Millennials? So last year. Now that this group is slowly moving towards 40, the leading role transfers to Generation Z (young adults who are now between 16 and 24).

Where millennials are characterized by a need for authenticity and sustainability, generation Z takes it to the next level: they are woke. This translates as follows: they’re alert to racism, social discrimination and injustice. GenZ is increasingly looking for companies where she can see her woke mentality reflected. She takes action by making choices with her wallet. Activism 2.0.

This has not gone unnoticed at big commercial brands. Activist campaigns are springing up like mushrooms, for example the award-winning campaign ‘The Talk’ by Procter & Gamble that criticizes racial bias, ‘Is it ok for guys …’, in which AXE takes a critical look at our idea of ​​masculinity, or LINDA.meiden who encourages girls to be proud of their (naked) breasts with their ‘bareboobedcover’.

How sincere are these brands in their mission to improve the world? Didn’t the same companies try to make us feel insecure, unhealthy and unhappy before? A commercial company earns money by solving a problem. So the bigger the problem, the more money they can earn from the solution.

Coca-Cola used to create a happiness illusion (“Not that satisfied? Drink Coca-Cola – you will be happy and life will suddenly have meaning”). AXE made a whole generation of men insecure (“If these women do not look at you, you’re a loser! Use AXE and hit on every woman you can find – only then you’re a real man”). Dove created a low self-esteem in women by always emphasizing that ‘normal’ women do not meet the beauty ideal (“But if you use Dove products, you will love yourself even so”).

This means that firstly, problems were created and fed, subsequently they were ‘resolved’ with the promise of the products, and now the same issues are addressed with activist campaigns. You could argue that these companies have also developed a new conscious, and sure, that is possible. But anyone who claims to be woke, must be consistent.

Libresse launched the campaign #bloodnormal, the first campaign in which their signature blue liquid is replaced by blood (or a red color, at least). A strong and very useful campaign, because Libresse contributes to the normalization of menstruation and blood. But doesn’t Libresse, at the same time, terrify us mentioning the possibility of leaking, visible menstrual products and ‘unwanted smells’? On their website, for example, we can find a campaign on ‘daily fresh panty liners’ that tells you to use a panty liner every day. “That way, you feel fresh and clean on a daily basis.” These are two pretty contradictory messages.

Coca-Cola makes wonderful campaigns to contribute to societal issues, but, with the sale of their products, contributes to an unhealthy lifestyle even more enthusiastically. Shell proudly uploads videos on male / female ratios at the top, but in the meantime remains one of the biggest polluters in the world. When you look at it like this, it’s not surprising there’s a lot of resistance. The fact that a commercial company by definition exists to make money, makes it rather implausible that the primary goal of their activism would be to improve the world.

And that’s how we get to the dream story of outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. They are distinguished by the authentic activism that is consistently used to complete their mission: to make a positive contribution to climate crisis prevention. In addition to being very critical of their own footprint, they stimulate consumers to consume more sustainably and, above all, less so. This is made easy for the consumer as Patagonia’s products last a long time. Next to this, consumers have access to a free repair service and a recycling program.

But Patagonia is best known for the nature conservation campaigns that go beyond one slogan. Their Black Friday campaign is now iconic: Patagonia donated not the usual 1 percent, but 100 percent of the proceeds from their day sale to small local environmental protection. The results? A record sale of 10 million dollars was realized. With this action, no cash was added to the Patagonia bank account, but they could transfer a huge amount to organizations pursuing the same goal. As a positive side effect, this action generated an enormous amount of PR for Patagonia – plus, they partly sold to a new audience that day.

Why does this brand succeed where the other examples don’t? A very important fact is that Patagonia consciously has no shareholders and can therefore operate autonomously. And, like founder Yvon Chouinard himself says: “We’re not in the clothing business. We’re in the business of saving the planet and we use making clothing as our way of doing it.” It’s hitting the nail right on the head. Companies that are successful users of activist storytelling use commercial revenue as a means to reach the goal. Therefore, that revenue is never the ultimate goal.

The question is whether this is possible for established companies at all, or whether they have to surrender more and more space to companies that have been founded from a mission statement, like Yoni, Dopper, Lush and Tony’s Chocolonely. Successful activist marketing is doable, but requires a sizable transformation. Preaching about change but not changing yourself is something you won’t get away with anymore.

This blog was published in Dutch at at on July 16th 2018. It is translated by Imme Visser (

Facebook’s Apology Needs Some Serious Rewriting

Facebook’s Apology Needs Some Serious Rewriting

Even though the latest quarterly figures and an increase in users tell us something different, Facebook has every reason to panic. Their charm offensive has been going on for quite some time, but after ‘Cambridge Gate’ Facebook’s PR machine works overtime. A large campaign currently runs in the US to limit damages as much as possible.

The current discussion concerns privacy, unlawfully obtained data, Russian trolls, and ‘filter bubbles’. Facebook responds as usual: with excuses, new promises, and adjusted conditions. And because the policy makers have little understanding of how these platforms actually work, Facebook seems to be let off the hook quite easily.

But if you pay attention you will see that Facebook has a much bigger challenge. Now we are more aware of how irresponsible Facebook handles our data, the ‘idealistic and optimistic’ company’s good intentions are increasingly questioned. We’re beginning to realize that Facebook has only one goal: keeping us glued to the platform the entire day. Is more connection created, or is our attention highjacked and sold for a lot of money?


Has Facebook deliberately turned us into social media addicts?

We have known for quite a while that the enormous power of large tech companies was a serious risk, but only now that we’ve seen how this power can manifest itself do we truly feel it. The fact that the American elections have been manipulated on such a scale, with the result that Trump is now the most powerful man in the world, is something that appeals to everyone’s imagination. This particular incident could well have been where a tipping point started.

When former Facebook employees spoke out about the tech company’s real motives and even launched a campaign to fight tech addiction, notably few people were receptive to their message. It takes time to kick an addiction, and there’s actually five phases of behavioural change: denial, acknowledgment, exploration, action, and perseverance. Most people are still in phase one, as shown by the fierce responses focusing on everything except the recognition of the problem. Some people are already in phase two or three, and some, like the whistle-blowers are in phase four. Logically, Facebook tries to stop this from developing, and wants to keep the toxic reason behind the success of the platform (getting people addicted) covered up.

When you view the campaign video through a critical lens, you will see that the story is incorrect or incomplete at the very least. The video starts by reminding us of the good old days when everything was still fun and games, and then swiftly jumps to our current time of fake news and clickbait. How we got there, or how Facebook got us there, is never touched upon. Because then you’d first have to explain how you got us addicted.

Pay attention to the style of communication as well: Facebook chooses to speak in ‘we’ form, but communicates as the audience. They also decided not to allow comments on Youtube. The platform who turned consumers into ‘content creators’ chooses to fully determine the public’s opinion in their own campaigns. That is why I was so kind to rewrite the video’s voiceover. What the story would really sound like if it came from a user.

Play Video

We came here for the friends
We got to know the friends of our friends
Then our old friends from middle school, our mother, our ex, and our boss
Joined forces to wish us happy birthday
And we discovered our uncle used to play in a band
And realised he was young once too

And then we found others just like us
And just like that we felt a little less alone
But then something happened
We spent more and more time here
And our attention became the new gold
So we were seduced to stay even longer

The likes, the comments, the views,
Became our dopamine hits we could no longer live without
And we were left craving for more.
We were taught who we should befriend
Who we should talk to
Which event we should attend
Which products we needed to buy
Who we should vote for
But then something happened

We became unhappy, restless, unfulfilled, and lonelier than ever.
Slowly but surely, we started to open our eyes
And realized we had become obsessed with checking our timeline
And started missing real connections, conversations, and experiences

So from now on
Facebook will radically change its policy
And will stop abusing human vulnerability
And will stop making people addicted to its platform to make profit
And will stop giving more space to negativity than positivity because it creates more engagement
And will stop selling our data
And will stop creating a divided world

And then we can all go back to what made Facebook good in the first place
When this place does what it is build for
Then we all get a little closer.


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