It’s the month before Pride. 

You can bet your life’s savings that hundreds, if not thousands, of brands have currently got their graphic designer working on a Pride rainbow flag takeover of their social media icons. 

So we thought it a good time to talk about brand activism. 

Brands of all breeds are communicating their social purpose in an attempt to connect with customers. 

Authentic brand activism vs brand activism as a marketing tactic?

Authentic brand activism: when a company makes itself a brand for good, shows real concern (with no motivation for profit) for the communities they serve, and their economic, social and environmental issues.

Brand activism as a marketing tactic: when brands engage in ‘woke washing.’ When they align their marketing messages with trending activist messaging, but aren’t actually doing anything concrete – in their company and in society – to drive progress for the causes they’re claiming to stand for. 

Some are doing it well, some are fumbling with marketing campaigns that look like when you blow up a balloon and let it go to fly around the room, deflating itself with that comical noise until it lands on some lamp shade. Some are shooting in all directions, claiming they’re supporting all kinds of causes. Nearly all are changing their icons to the rainbow flag for June.

No wonder a major portion of their audiences are calling – ‘Bullsh*t!’ on their attempts. 

Greenwashing, pinkwashing, bluewashing – all of these terms are loaded with the frustration that audiences feel towards the companies that are, quite frankly, putting lipstick on a pig (no offense to pigs intended). 

Leaping already to the moral of the story in this post: it’s essential that if brand activism is in your marketing and communications formula, you need to be absolutely certain that you’re only practising authentic, real, concrete brand activism. 

That you are doing brand activism right. 

That the causes and values you are claiming your brand stands for is running through your company’s veins. 

That if one person in your audience was to pull back the curtain on how your company practises what it preaches, they’d be without a doubt satisfied with what they would find. 

In these action-packed times of seismic social change, brands can act as a powerful force in influencing political and social change. So we’re in favour and recommend to our clients that they should speak up for what they believe in. However, they should also stand up for what they believe in with real action. 

Brand activism has even gone to another level since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And as we go into another year of Pride pinkwashing, we wanted to offer all marketing pros and CEOs out there who get a queasy feeling in their stomach when faced with the question – ‘should we proclaim our support for this cause on our social media feeds?’ — a checklist that will help guide them in doing brand activism right. 

So before you change your company’s social media icons to the Pride flag, seriously think about the following:

Narrow down and simplify what you believe in as a company 

Brand’s doing the one-month-only social media icon makeover during Pride month is frustrating for the LGBTQ+ community largely because every brand is doing it, all at the same time, making it all seem like brands are getting drunk and having a one-night-stand at one big queer party for a month, never to be heard of again. 

What we’re getting at here is – don’t advocate for a cause because it’s a trend to advocate for a cause. 

Instead, find the most important values and causes your brand (and your community) believes in, and become a positive force that genuinely cares and advocates for them. 

Your community and audience will take you more seriously when you tell them you stand for something, when you’re not telling them you stand for everything. Make the long-term commitment to issues that matter to your company and its audience. 

Speak your brand’s own original truth

Once your company has found the causes your company will join the fight for, craft your messages in a way that speaks to them with your unique and authentic voice.

Your mission should be inspired by your audience

A company is there to serve its customers, right? 

You should apply this power dynamic when determining what social issues your brand will be an activist for. Listen to your audience via social media channels, and also offline in the spaces where you interact with them, and seek to understand what is important to them and their vision of how the world needs fixing. 

Is this a time where your brand can simply shut up?

The nature of social media has got everybody trying to be part of the trending conversation, all the time. The ironic thing is, this leads to many of those voices being drowned out by each other. Unless they present their message in a radically fresh and original way.

One of the best pieces of advice anybody ever gave us was – when everybody is looking in one direction, look in the other. Same goes in this instance. 

Don’t jump to be part of all conversations going on, on social media when it comes to political or social matters. There’s no research that shows that a brand regularly engaging in controversial issues strengthens the relationship between them and their consumers, or distinguishes them from their competition. So don’t be in a hurry to do so, even if it is a trending marketing tactic these days.

Once you choose your cause, give it your all – heart and all

If a company really does believe in its cause, and is serious about contributing positively to it, the audience picks up on this. 

It’s like the difference between an impactful TEDTalk and a lame one – if the speaker conveys their subject with all of their passionate being, their enthusiasm, and the belief that fuels it becomes obvious and contagious for the audience.

This is why your marketing messaging absolutely needs to align with the company’s ethos that is deeply rooted in its DNA and its purpose. And all of those who have read our post about why brands need to find a purpose will understand why you need one of them. 

The times we’re living in now are action-packed and demand change from all facets of our society. 

Customers and audiences expect the brands they interact with to be part of that change, but they equally expect them to be honest with them.

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