by Alice King
Over the recent months a rise in brand activism has appeared in our media texts. This was apparent particularly during the US Super Bowl. More and more brands are stepping up and speaking out about issues affecting their costumers and the rest of the world. It used to be images of beautiful people driving beautiful cars, but if this super bowl tells us anything it’s that activism is taking over from the cliché Mad Men-esque anecdote “sex sells.”
With 24 hour news cycle, a constant stream of varying social media and a younger generation fighting the injustices in the world, companies have almost been forced to take a stance on the political and social issues. From Budweiser and Audi to Airbnb and 84 Lumber, brands decided to speak up during the ad breaks of America’s biggest sports event. The activism came with a barrage of supporters but obviously wasn’t without its critics. Even if a brand isn’t taking a political stance, its consumers are and it is important in a world with quick and constant access to activism that brands join the fight.
An article by AdWeek aptly named this the ‘activism economy’ where “a brand’s value and values are now becoming intertwined and indistinguishable.” David Armano is the global strategy director for Edelman says there are 5 types of activism a brand should prepare for these are – consumer activism, brand activism, employee activism, spokesperson activism and media activism. An important example to talk about when looking at consumer activism is the travel ban protest. Uber raised the surge price of their taxis when taking people to the airports. This was perceived as Uber unjustly profiting from the travel ban and the goodwill of protestors. The hashtag #DeleteUber started trending worldwide and Uber reportedly lost over 200,000 customers.
In reference to employee activism, Uber were once again in the firing line. The chief executive of Uber, Travis Kalanick, joined Trumps economic advisory council in December and after the immigration order against refugees and predominately Muslim countries, many employees were displeased by the choice. In today’s political climate it is hard for CEOs to try and work with the new administration as a lot of consumers and employees in America are immigrants themselves. Other examples of employee activism include Facebook employees outrage at the fact Peter Thiel (investor and advisor to Trump) still has a seat on the social media platforms board. At Google, there were protests against the immigration order and at Twitter, employees have spoken up about the uneasiness of the president’s reliance on the platform. Spokesperson activism is also important for a brand with so many new types of influencer – bloggers, YouTubers and the Instagram famous. YouTube and Disney have both dropped deals with PewDiePie the YouTuber after he was accused of being anti-Semitic. This was a wise move from both companies as consumers will hold the brand responsible for the actions of its spokespersons.
Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz has promised to hire 10,000 refugees after the immigration order. This came under scrutiny from people saying they could do more and that the 10,000 refugees only increases the Starbucks workforce by 4%. William Whitman, host and producer of the In The Now show was a vocal critic of the plan. Saying that Starbucks cares more about being seen to have progressive values than actually having said progressive values. This is a theme among critics who all seem to agree that big companies only speak out on these issues as a public relations stunt. Whilst that could be true, a company is still helping 10,000 refugees who would not otherwise have the opportunity.