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Brands and social issues: Why you should take a stand

Brands and social issues

Brands and social issues

The annual Cannes Lions festival in June proved businesses can’t keep quiet on difficult subjects and taking points anymore. It’s no longer acceptable to sit on the sidelines and avoid the biggest issues facing society. Nor is it good business sense. Put simply, when it comes to brands and social issues, they should all be taking a stand. 

People want companies to get involved. Hence Coca Cola currently running a UK campaign to improve access to sports facilities for disadvantaged kids. Meanwhile, in the US Diet Coke cans lacking in labels have been given out at major festivals and Pride marches. The idea is to start conversations about the impact of labelling people— positive and negative. Those are just two examples. 

The Belief-Driven Buyer 

In the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand report, 2/3 of the public said they now expect brands to take a stand by making their moral and ethical positions clear. The study also revealed:

1 in 2 people choose, avoid, boycott or switch to brands based on their stance towards societal issues. 67% of these have bought from a brand for the first time because of its position on controversial issues. 65% would not buy from brands that have kept quiet when there should have been an obligation to speak up. 

Belief-Driven Buying is not restricted to countries with established reputations for charitable giving, either. 78% of consumers in China, 69% in Brazil and 68% in India consider themselves ‘Belief-Driven’. This means brands and social issues are increasingly going hand in hand, across the planet. 

Brands and social issues— the good 

Yoplait takes on ‘mum-shaming’

The yogurt giant certainly knew its core market when it decided to put one major myth about motherhood to bed. Namely the fact that being a good mum has nothing to do with what you wear, where you work or that nightly glass of red wine used to destress. 

Air BnB hits back at Donald Trump 

The then-new US President’s temporarily closed the country’s borders to refugees. Air BnB responded by dedicating its Super Bowl ad to the view that everyone belongs in the world, and everyone should be accepted. 

P&G levels the gender playing field 

Despite the year being 2019, gender inequality remains rife— whether that’s out on the street, at school, or in the workplace. P&G had clearly had enough when it produced this video celebrating women and girls defying stereotypes. 

Unilever abandons brands that don’t believe in something

Unilever’s CEO, Alan Jope, has huge concerns about ‘woke washing. That’s when companies pay lip service to issues without doing much, or having any real impact. In May he warned he’d ‘dispose of any brands that don’t stand for something’. 

Brands and social issues— the silent 

There are plenty of examples wherein brands and social issues haven’t met in the middle. Or haven’t met at all. Uber came a serious cropper in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. First it broke ranks and continued to offer services while other cab firms were striking in protest at the new leadership. Then it stated clear intentions to work with The Most Powerful Man In The World on urban mobility. 

Brands and social issues— the not-so-good

Most of us remember the Kendal Jenner-Pepsi debacle. Depicted as a social activist helping bring peace to a protest by handing out cans of Coke’s biggest rival, the public were outraged at the piggybacking. 

Gillette’s most recent take on its Best A Man Can Get tagline—  claimed as an attempt to rid us of toxic masculinity— was ridiculed and revered in equal measure. The problem was some people didn’t buy into a brand with a history of promoting male stereotypes suddenly championing the opposite? 

How brands should wake up about being woke

As with so much in marketing— and life— the key is authenticity. And this doesn’t just mean making sure you’re paying male and female employees the same for the same job while preaching gender equality. 

In the US, B Corp has been certifying the best brands in terms of social conscience for several years. Criteria includes social and environmental performance of product or service, and also internal culture. This gives an idea as to what the public now expects from brands and social issues in return for loyalty. Those that don’t believe this are kidding themselves.


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