Brands and Activism

The days when companies spat out messaging on a one-way track to consumers is over. The potential for engagement between brands and their audiences made possible by social media has skyrocketed in recent years. With large platforms, resources, and numerous direct channels to audiences, the public has begun to expect brands to do more than just passively sell products.

Consumers want to know the brands they support are standing up for what they believe in. Fortunately, there are endless ways for brands to do their part in making the world a better place. For example, it’s very common to see advertisements for eco-friendly packaging, cruelty-free, vegan, and ethically sourced materials.

While all of these are great ways to make the world a little better, it is no secret companies have been known to make dubious claims with no evidence to support them or just flat-out lie to consumers. Luckily people are not so easily fooled. A disingenuous effort can be easily spotted.

Successful campaigns require a lot more thought than slapping some label on a product for whatever cause they choose. Taking a stand and advocating for a movement that is important to consumers is how to reach audiences on a much more personal level. Some of the most successful campaigns have come from companies standing in solidarity with a cause.

A cornerstone of this is Nike’s famous campaign with Colin Kaepernick. In September of 2018, the company released a campaign featuring activist and former National Football League player Colin Kaepernick. They chose Kaepernick because of how he was blackballed from the NFL for protesting for racial justice by kneeling during the national anthem.

Nike knew running the campaign would be a controversial decision that could have potentially been a loss. It was also a risky decision for them because they are one of the NFL’s biggest partners. However, the brand did this to use its platform to support an issue important to its audiences and do what is right.

Initially, it looked like the company was getting more backlash than praise for taking a stand for racial justice. After the ad was released, their stock fell 3.2 percent. The hashtag #nikeboycott was trending on Twitter, and tons of videos flooded the internet of people burning their Nike products in protest of the brand’s activism.

Fortunately, this negative trend was only short-lived. It was reported that their stocks eventually reached a five percent increase, and according to Time, Nike sales increased 31 percent in a matter of days after the ad was released. Kaepernick went on to win awards for his actions and agreed on a huge brand deal with Nike.

Stories like this have helped set a principle for what the public expects from brands. Taking a definitive stance on important social issues is the most sincere way to connect with audiences and stand with the communities the brand serves. Doing what is right may not be the path of least resistance, but the public wants to know whether a brand is committed or just capitalizing off of performative activism.