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Should Brands Comment on Social Movements?

Apr 15, 2022
by Sydney Frenkel
Should Brands Comment on Social Movements?

What role do brands play in socio-political issues? Should they actively participate in conversations, and comment, or just carefully observe? 

Time is frequently defined by major social, political, and economic moments. The 1960s was dominated by the Civil Rights movement while the 1970s witnessed the birth of women’s equality, gay rights alongside anti-war rallies. AIDS activism heightened in the 1980s, and presently climate change, racial justice, mental health, transgender rights, COVID-19, and, more recently, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have all become major issues we all now face. And, where many companies have avoided voicing their opinions in the past, they are now expected to take a position on the narratives surrounding these difficult and significant matters. James Weiss, Big Drop’s Senior Director stated the following:

Whether we like it or not, brands are mouthpieces for our social atmosphere, and their absence from engaging with divisive issues is a concession that these issues aren’t worthy of their commentary. They’ve suffered from fear of being negatively judged by the marketplace for so long that their willingness to conceal their values was arguably a pillar of their competitive advantage. Now, consumers demand to know what values stand behind a logo or product to determine whether they align with their own. Actively declining to engage, especially on human-centric topics, communicates and demonstrates ignorance of environment – regardless of their position, abstention is a strong indication that a company has no interest in being part of our collective future.”

The Reliance on Media

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on media consumption cannot be overstated. 2021 saw an increase in digital media consumption as a result of global health and safety recommendations, isolating a majority of the world and increasing screen time. According to a study conducted in May 2020, time spent consuming digital media has more than doubled globally since the outbreak began, increasing from an average of 3 hours 17 minutes to an astonishing 6 hours 59 minutes.

According to a McKinsey analysis, many of the consumption trends that emerged in 2020 were simply accelerations of previous behaviors; the pandemic has resulted in a decade’s worth of digital adoption being completed in days. Online entertainment platforms such as Disney+ have benefited greatly, achieving what took its competitor, Netflix, years to achieve in a matter of months. Kaity Ayuso from Big Drop says:

Joining the conversation on social issues can help authentically build brand trust while serving as a reminder that the brand is not immune to the world events going on around it. Customers are demanding more from companies when it comes to social responsibility and activism – they want to know what their brands stand for and how they respond during challenging times. Speaking up in a meaningful and unified way that truly represents the brand’s constituents and can be backed up by concrete actions the company is taking to contribute to positive change, can be extremely impactful and help make a genuine difference.”

Brands’ Involvement in Social Movements

Individuals, particularly younger generations including Millennials and Gen Z, expect brands to take a stand on social issues, according to Kantar Media Research. Not expressing one’s opinion can sometimes feel like complicity or a failure to do the right thing. In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Netflix tweeted, “To be silent is to be complicit.” 

Back in 2018, Nike’s campaign starring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick quickly sparked both praise and calls for a boycott. However, sales rose with the company reporting a 10% jump in income to $847 million, driven primarily by strong revenue growth.

Consumers want brands to get involved and help bring about change, and according to Kantar’s Research, want meaningful action. Just the same, employees also want meaningful action, according to Edelman’s Empowered Employee Research, and are increasingly choosing jobs based on personal beliefs, values, and purpose.

Tips for Brands To Drive Social Change

1. Actions, Not Just Words: When brands support society’s challenges, it is vital that they follow through on words with actions. Brands must take concrete efforts to demonstrate that they care about the issue and are working to improve or resolve the situation. Monetary actions, while beneficial, are not enough. Make a difference, be the change.                               

2. Live Your Values: It’s important that brands examine their values and implement them across their operations. The ability and legitimacy of a company to take a position for social change will be influenced by whether it actually embodies, the culture and ideals.                                                                                                                                                                                          

3. Don’t Operate in Isolation: It’s not a simple thing. Supporting social change and making a genuine difference isn’t easy.  Consumers, partners, nonprofits, and charities should be a part of the brand’s actions and conversations. Collaboration is essential.

Final Thoughts

Customers are online more than ever before, regardless of your business or industry.  Brands and businesses must embrace social change in order to work toward a better future.  Brands can no longer simply show support for progressive social movements; they must be actively involved in them and aware of their objectives. It’s crucial that brands are able to provide more representation when clients request it.

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