November 25, 2022
As the climate crisis grows more serious and deadly with every passing year, many of us are fighting for our planet. But who exactly can and should get involved? This is what we will share with you in today’s article.
Mostly, when we talk about climate activism, we think of two spheres of influence: the individual private citizen on the one hand, and the political one made up of lobbying NGOs talking to the government on the other hand.
However, there is a third party that can be a powerful driver for change. As it turns out, they may even be more influential than policymakers. We are talking about brands.
In an increasingly polarized society, brands face the question of how to deal with sensitive issues such as the climate crisis or Black Lives Matter. This is an opportunity for companies to demonstrate they genuinely care about the planet by taking action to save it. This is known as brand activism. (5)
Brands are becoming more vocal about their beliefs. Especially with the creation of social media, it has become incredibly easy to spread awareness and encourage others to get involved too. And there are plenty of actionable forms of brand activism, such as advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsements, non-profit partnerships, or public donations. (8)
As early as 2018, the Edelman Earned Brand study discovered that over half of consumers believed brands were a more powerful force for societal change than the government. Edelman called this “Brand Democracy”. Brands are being pushed to go beyond their business interests and to become advocates. A brand’s success is now based on its willingness to live its values and even make the leap into activism. (2)
This trend affects businesses’ bottom line. Nearly two-thirds of consumers will buy or boycott a brand based on its position on a social or political issue, the Edelman study revealed. (2)
Edelman’s latest annual report Trust Barometer 2022 showed that confidence in government and the media continues to spiral downward. More and more people are looking to businesses to be drivers of positive change. At the same time, more than half of respondents in the 2022 study felt business is not doing enough to address societal problems. (3)
If brands do not heed consumers’ opinions, they will alienate their client base. Customers are likely to stop buying a brand if it supports the "wrong" side of an issue. (6)
Brands should beware of the pitfalls of brand activism. It’s important, a company is seen as engaging in authentic brand activism, which means its activist messaging, purpose, and values align with its prosocial corporate practice. Brands who merely practice “woke washing” and do not live their values are misleading their consumers and when found out will suffer serious damage to their brand equity. (5)
This begs the question: wouldn’t it be smarter to remain silent on the issue of the day to minimise the risk of alienating customers?
Silence is most certainly not the way to go. A failure to act upon societal and environmental hot topics will result in consumers feeling as if the trust that they have in a business is misplaced. (4)
One example is ride company Lyft donating $1 million to the anti-travel ban lobby in the face of Trump’s anti-muslim travel ban. However, competitor Uber opted to not take sides and do nothing. In just a single weekend, Uber lost 200,000 customers to Lyft. (10)
Another very recent case in point is German sportswear giant Adidas. The company found itself in hot waters after the artist Ye, formerly known as Kanye West and the face of Adidas’s Yeezy line of products, made anti-Semitic comments. Adidas faced pressure from the public and its own employees to cut ties with Ye. The company began reviewing the partnerships as early as October 6th but was widely criticised for its inaction over the next weeks.
In the end, Adidas decided to drop Ye and accepted a short-term loss of up to €250 million in net income in 2022 as a result. The fact the company decided to lose hundreds of millions of profits rather than be seen to be supporting an anti-semitic golden goose is a clear sign that remaining neutral simply is not a wise business strategy anymore. (7)
When done well, activism allows companies to develop powerful holistic bonds with their customers. Thereby, they can inspire both brand loyalty and consumer advocacy. (4)
One example is ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s. The company has a long history of addressing social issues such as racial inequality and environmental issues. In 2020, they renamed their plant-based Coconutterly Caramel’d flavour to Save Our Swirled Now as a way to raise awareness of the climate crisis. However, this was not merely a marketing stunt. A portion of the proceeds from each tub went to The Climate Coalition. (9)
For Ben & Jerry’s brand activism seems par for the course. They launched an ice cream called Cone Together earlier in 2020, with a portion of the proceeds from each tub going towards NGOs across Europe that are working for change. Also in 2020, they challenged UK home secretary Priti Patel over her comments on refugees coming to Britain across the English Channel. (9)
Brand activism is here to stay. Modern companies will have to face the fact that they can no longer bury their heads in the sand. As brand activism becomes the new normal, brands will face pressure to walk the talk or risk going out of business. (5)
As you have probably realised, you as a retailer or F&B brand can’t afford to remain ambiguous about your values. You need to commit to tackling the biggest issues of our time, first and foremost the climate crisis.
At inoqo, we conduct impact assessments of your entire product catalogue to identify what the impact of your products is across 8 different dimensions including CO2, social impact and animal welfare. We then help optimise your value chain to make your offering as sustainable as it can be. If this sounds like an interesting idea, simply get in touch with us at email@example.com for more details.
November 25, 2022