Brand Activism: A risk or a duty?

Is it your brand's job to speak up on current events? Or should you mind your own business and focus on your area of expertise?

It's the year 2022 and our world is on fire. For all we know, we could be living through the apocalypse and not even know it. So far, our generation has lived through terrorism, racism, famine, all kinds of natural disasters, a pandemic, cyber disasters we thought would only happen in movies, life-threatening levels of global warming and pollution, and unimaginable acts of human rights violations and multiple wars that have global effects on humanity.


Side effects that come with all of this negativity, such as increased mass depression and health problems are what we are left with. Meanwhile, we all have businesses we are trying to run that are trying to make a profit and thrive in this environment, just like the human beings in it. It is not easy for anyone. It is what it is. 

But more than the individuals, the businesses, that have teams of people in them and stronger resources, have a responsibility to take action and work towards making a change. They need to take a stance and speak up about where they stand on the issues at hand, and let their audience know what they are doing about things. Millennials and Gen Z are identified as the most sensitive generations to brand activism, meaning their purchasing decisions and perceptions of a brand are highly influenced by how active a brand is in societal events, how they address current issues and how involved they are in the community. 

Before writing this blog, I read several recent studies (published between 2020 and 2022) about brand activism and they all came to conclude that brands who see speaking up about the events happening around them as a risk because they are afraid to lose a few clients, in fact, lose more clients and lose credibility in the long run because millennials and Gen Z, who collectively hold the most purchasing power at the moment, seek brands who stand up for the things that matter, like the environment, human rights, and diversity.

As a consultant, I help clients make that switch from being mute because they think that's playing it safe (but it is in fact being simply tone-deaf) to using the right messaging at the right time to show their audience where they stand and what they are doing about the causes they care about. Activism is like threading a needle; it has to be done with a lot of care and attention. A brand can easily be misunderstood or look like they are advertising using current events. Choosing the right platforms, the right organizations to work with, the right actions, to take and the right spokesperson(s) are all art forms. Simply "meaning well" is not activism and it is certainly not enough. 

More importantly, current issues are hardly ever only 'local' anymore. Brands have to keep an eye on global events and be ready to react timely and responsibly - when necessary - because there is not a single event that starts in a large community and doesn't bleed through the rest of the world anymore, thanks to social media. So be prepared to speak up, be prepared to take action, and be prepared to share with your audience what you are doing for the community around you. Silence is no longer gold. On the contrary, silence is toxic for brands. 


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