Don’t pretend to be an activist – facilitate activism

Being ‘woke’ is on trend, so naturally, brand activism is happening. At the end of 2017, I predicted 2018 would be the year of brand activism, but at that moment, wokeness was still linked to metropolitan whimsy. For those who are still asleep – being woke means being conscious of what’s happening around the globe.

Right now, there’s no brand out there who can afford to ignore this development. Companies are embracing ‘do-gooding’ en masse, and that doesn’t lead to flawless productions. The biggest condition when it comes to transforming successfully? Understanding the difference between riding the activist mindset train and actually BEING an activist.

Commercial success and activism can go hand in hand

Activist brands were developed out of activism and are completely catered to their goal. Patagonia is now well on its way to beating Apple as the model case for the average marketeer. The brand, and their authentic mission to protect the earth, shows that commercial success and activism go hand in hand, provided that there is a business model in which profit is not the ultimate goal, but a means.

The transition is difficult for most brands, partly because commercial companies are set up to gain a competitive advantage: success at the expense of others. Activist goals – such as making chocolate slave-free for Tony’s Chocolonely – require cooperation in order to achieve success. The brand does not consider other chocolate brands as a threat, but as partners in their mission to have even more people buy slave-free chocolate. That isn’t something they’re just broadcasting, it’s something they are actively doing by making their open chain platform available to the Albert Heijn Delicata brand.

In addition, brands struggle to give up their heroic status. At a time when success was about financial gain, brands like Coca Cola, IKEA and H&M were the big winners. But now that success is about contributing in a positive way, that gigantic size and the associated negative impact on people and the environment suddenly makes these giants much less popular. That’s why they are trying to make a difference and attract attention with good initiatives such as H&M’s recycle programme. But the fact that they produce on such a large scale at such an extremely low price, immediately makes them implausible in their mission. Recycling to produce even more?

Commercial success and activism can go hand in hand

You can’t solve these issues by just launching a nice commercial. The challenge is reinventing yourself in an era where different laws apply. For example, criticism of activist campaigns such as Gillette’s much-discussed ‘The best a man can be campaign’ comes mainly from people within our own professional field. The criticism primarily focuses on credibility. And in the marketing world, whether something is credible is judged on the extent to which the story fits the brand.

But brands, like people, are not static.These are times of transformation, which means that change needs a transition period – time. Although we are aware of the damage we do by eating animals, flying, consuming and driving, we don’t stop doing those things all at once. Consumers understand very well that this is no different for companies. How much understanding brands can count on coincides with the following factors.

Add to the word
The most important and biggest challenge for brands is to align their behaviour with their claims. For example, past Women’s Day Google launched a huge campaign about gender equality that puts strong women in the limelight. That while back in November, 20,000 Google employees took action against the company, because Google would protect senior executives suspected of sexually transgressing behaviour. Libresse claims to want to break through shame with their awe inspiring ‘no blood’ campaign, but still sells pantyliners for every day. A product that only exists by feeding shame.
Honesty and transparency
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