December 7, 2020 Tracy Freese

The Problem with Brand Activism

In the past decade, brand activism (aka cause marketing) has steadily been on the rise. Brands from Ben and Jerry’s to Nike to Starbucks are incorporating brand activism into their marketing strategies. While this can be a strategic move for some companies, there can be pitfalls with implementation. If you’re considering using brand activism in marketing for your company, make sure you do your research first so you can do it successfully. Here are some things to keep in mind when forming your brand activism strategy.

What is Brand Activism?

Brand activism is the incorporation of real-life issues into a company’s marketing and advertising. It involves advertisements, company policies, blog posts, products, and social media posts reflecting the representation of a real-life issue. As a concept, brand activism isn’t necessarily new, but the rise in popularity is fairly recent. Brand activism requires an understanding of what social issues are important and how they can be properly represented.

While there is no shortage of social issues and movements to care about, some of the ones you’ll commonly see in current brand activism efforts include:

  • The Black Lives Matter movement
  • Sustainability
  • COVID-19
  • Women’s rights
  • Ethical production
  • Minority rights

Benefits of Incorporating Brand Activism in Marketing

There are many benefits to incorporating brand activism into your marketing strategy. Some of the biggest ones include setting your company apart from others, gaining new customers, and creating a positive company image.

Set Your Company Apart

Using brand activism shows your current and potential customers that you are knowledgeable about today’s issues and recognize the importance of taking part in social activism. It also tells your customers that you care about them. For instance, companies who accurately understand and fight against racial injustice show their customers of color that they care about people and not just dollar signs. This may give these companies the upper-hand over their competitors who do not represent anti-racism when appealing to minority groups.

In a world where social activism is important to many, acknowledging and advancing social issues creates a strong, positive image for your company.

Gain New Customers

According to some surveys, brand activism is important to more than two-thirds of consumers, meaning that people are more likely to interact with a company that participates in cause marketing. People who are interested in the social issue you are engaging with will be encouraged to interact with your company. On the other hand, if you aren’t engaging in any kind of social cause, that could mean you’ll miss out on their patronage.

Create a Positive Company Image

Brand activism can create a positive image for your company, especially in comparison to competitors who do not incorporate social issues into their marketing. Showing that you as a company believe in representing important social topics shows that you are not only aware of what’s going on in the world but that you also care about it.

If you’re a clothing retailer, you may want to practice brand activism by showing that you represent sustainability, ethical production, and body positivity. Target has exemplified this through their equality and inclusivity advertisements. The store has received much praise for its Halloween line, which included accessible costumes such as wheelchair-friendly clothing, zipper-less costumes, easily removable items, and even hidden inner pockets for those with abdominal accessories.

Pitfalls of Brand Activism

If brand activism isn’t executed correctly, it will fall flat. Brand activism can turn customers away if it isn’t authentic, doesn’t appeal to their demographic, or doesn’t accurately represent the social issue at hand.

A lack of authenticity or accurate representation can create a major problem with brand activism. For example, the representation of breast cancer awareness has begun to stray away from an honest participation in the movement and instead turn into a profit-making strategy. Catering to an audience without actually believing in the activism looks bad for your company, and it turns away potential customers. Incorrect representation similarly turns away customers that see inaccuracies and inauthenticity as a turn-off.

Additionally, brand activism may be too polarizing depending on the issue. Polarizing topics such as marriage equality or other political issues can cause potential customers to not want to do business with your company depending on the demographic.

How to Properly Use Brand Activism

If you want your brand activism to be effective, you need these three essential components:

  • Authenticity and Accurate Representation—your brand needs to be open, honest, accurate, and authentic with its representation of the issue.
  • Alignment with Your Company’s Values—whichever social issue you are representing should align with your company’s core values. This means that if you are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, your company should put diversity and equality front and center in all its practices.
  • Relevance—the issue that you are representing should be relevant and important. Choosing a relevant topic shows that you understand what is important to your customers.

Examples of Brand Activism Done Well

One of the best ways to figure out how to incorporate brand activism into your marketing strategy is by looking to companies that have done it well as examples. Ben & Jerry’s, Adidas, Patagonia, and Lyft have all successfully incorporated brand activism into their marketing.

Ben & Jerry’s has chosen to represent the Black Lives Matter movement. Through factual and accurate blog posts, social media adverts, and the introduction of a “Justice Remix’d” flavor line, Ben & Jerry’s showed that they truly believe in what they were representing. While some did not support Ben & Jerry’s outspoken activism, the marketing strategy was widely praised.

Signs encouraging environmentally-friendly practices

Patagonia represents environmental activism and sustainability. Similarly to Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia represents their activism in their products, advertising, and social media. They believe in protecting the environment, using safe, sustainable products, prioritizing conservation efforts, and having a “green” impact.

Is Brand Activism the Right Choice?

Ultimately, brand activism is an excellent way to take part in today’s important social issues. However, whether or not it is the right choice for your company will depend on your demographic and whether or not you properly incorporate brand activism in marketing. It can have a major impact on your company, and with cause marketing, your company can have a positive impact on the world!


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