A Millennial’s View On What Works (& What Doesn’t) In Brand Activism

A Millennial’s View On What Works (& What Doesn’t) In Brand Activism
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In this guest post, PHD strategist and Gen Y-er, Remi Baker (pictured below), says she’s a big fan of brands who get this whole brand activism thing right…

Our trust in companies, politics and advertising is at the lowest it’s been in 20 years.

It’s therefore no surprise that we are looking to brands to have a point of view, especially when it comes to cultural, social and political issues that are important to us.

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Our distrust in politics has been fuelled by a string of global events: First Brexit, then the US election and the more recent UK election. These events have brought important topics like immigration, equality and globalisation to the forefront of our agendas and have triggered a reaction, especially amongst millennials like myself. They reignited our passion to stand up for what we believe in, and with it came a feeling of responsibility; a growing realisation that it’s now up to us to influence change.

Which in turn, altered what we expect from brands. We no longer want them to simply sell us something, we want our brands to stand for something.

And don’t the big brands know it.

You just need to look back to the Super Bowl earlier this year, which was a show reel of brands trying to save the world.

They make it easy for us. I mean, what better way to feel like we’re making a difference than without actually having to venture away from the comfort of our day to day: buying a latte from a barista whose coffee supports refugees, investing with a bank dedicated to driving marriage equality and driving a car that supports gender equality. It requires minimum effort, but still makes us feel like we’re doing our bit. Like our purchases are helping save the world, even if it is just one frothy coffee at a time.

There’s been a lot of negativity around brand activism recently: Is it right? Are brands simply jumping on the bandwagon? It’s brought debate and divided opinion. Do brands have a right to play in this space? As a Millennial, I think they have a responsibility to… providing they play by the rules.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying every brand should be mindlessly badging their name onto a cause. That’s exactly the problem. There needs to be a clear, meaningful and authentic connection between the brand and issue. If there isn’t, we’re not buying it.

So just how can brands foster authentic activism to help connect with this notoriously sceptical audience? Below are a few guiding principles:

  1. Build around a single-minded brand purpose – The best brand activists have a clear and unwavering brand purpose that runs through everything they do. Their activism is a natural extension of their existing positioning and they are single minded in their approach. It’s therefore important that your brand chooses its cause wisely and focuses on only one. Brands who try to do too much end up undermining and diluting their message.
  1. Policy not politics – Don’t focus on a political stance or going up against a party or leader as that means venturing into very dangerous territory. Instead focus on a policy or issue that is important and relevant to your brand and your audience. The key word here is ‘relevant’. Tiger beer recently launched their ‘Clean Air Gallery’ campaign, partnering with Air-Ink to help transform harmful pollution into harmless ink. Whilst a nice idea, without an intrinsic link between the brand and cause, it seems a little meaningless.
  1. Practice what you preach – Make sure your brand aligns its external and internal values. Trust me, if they don’t, we will find out and it will bring everything you say into question. A good example of a brand who practises what they preach is US clothing brand Patagonia, who are committed to social and environmental conservation. Not only do they spread a message promoting conservation, but they live by the premise, with their clothing made from almost 100% recycled materials.
  1. Demonstrate your commitment – Go beyond traditional marketing, from rallying governments to leading petitions, put what you say into action. Take Air B&B as an example who are a global brand that believe in equality. How do I know that? Not just because they tell me they do in their ads, but because their actions show me that they do. From their ‘Ode to Acceptance’ Super bowl ad, to their commitment to providing free accommodation to 100,000 refugees.
  1. Stick to your guns – Every cause has two sides and when you champion a POV, there are always going to be haters. How you manage those with opposing viewpoints will say an awful lot about your brand and a brand that sticks to their guns will earn greater respect. When Holden partnered with Mardis Gras earlier this year, the biggest star to come out of the campaign was their social media team. Whilst the brand received a torrent of negative comments across their social channels, the responses from Holden remained positive and true to their cause.

Brands need to fight harder than ever to get our attention and having a point of view can be a point of difference for a brand. Yes, there’s risk involved, and the few brands that have dared tread into this territory have seen a mixed response. But those who live up to their promise and truly believe in what they say, have seen the benefits and earnt respect amongst millennials.

So, I guess it comes down to one question: who will be brave enough to take a stand?

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