Just because consumers want brands to speak out on social issues doesn’t mean all companies should, at least not without careful consideration. Authenticity is the primary factor. Whether it’s a CEO statement or a large-scale campaign crafted by a digital marketing agency, authenticity in the message is paramount.
Let’s take a look at some successful and failed attempts at brand activism to show the importance of taking authentic action.
Nike’s Colin Kaepernick Campaign
One of the most famous examples of brand activism from recent years is Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign, which featured NFL player Colin Kaepernick and referenced his protest against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. While the campaign Philippines Photo Editor did cause controversy, the adverts got the authenticity factor right, and it paid off in terms of financial gain. Nike’s market value rose by $6 billion, with shares up 36% during 2018 when the campaign took place.
This highlights the importance of connecting social issues with a brand in a meaningful, logical, and authentic way. It made sense for Nike to advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement through the Colin Kaepernick ad, as their brand purpose is based on empowering and supporting athletes. It was also delivered with sensitivity and the right tone.
Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Commercial
On the other hand, Pepsi’s 2017 commercial referencing the Black Lives Matter movement endured widespread public backlash and was almost immediately pulled from the airwaves. The ad showed model Kendall Jenner at a protest of unknown intent, where she uses a can of Pepsi to dispel tension between protestors and police.
This campaign is considered a prime example of missing the mark in terms of communicating a genuine message relating to a social issue. Rather than doing anything to help the movement, Pepsi was perceived to have trivialized it. The ridicule on social media that the campaign received shows that jumping on the bandwagon with a social issue is not a good look. “Woke-washing” is seldom tolerated by the public and likely won’t improve company image or revenue.