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Activism:
Why Taking a Stand Will Build Your Brand

Some dismiss brand activism as little more than PR stunts. But we at Grounded strongly believe brand activism is here to stay and can transform purpose into profit.

“Those who stand for nothing, fall for everything.”Alexander Hamilton

It’s been quite a year so far for brand activism. COVID-19 took hold in early March, prompting beer brands to make hand sanitizer and luxury fashion brands to make face masks. Dyson even created a new hospital ventilator in just 10 days! Then, thanks to record sales from e-comm and a spate of panic buying and stocking up, grocery chains started to give big bonuses to their staff and donated millions to support frontline and local communities. 

Fast forward to May 25. George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. Riots, violence and civil unrest reverberated around the world. CEOs called for a reparations commission and a ban on police unions. According to Forbes, over 28 million Instagram users participated in #BlackoutTuesday — posting empty black tiles in silent (and some might say, empty) solidarity. And some of America’s oldest household brands came under the spotlight for their slavery-era branding

More recently, Patagonia made its position very clear around the forthcoming election; and young TikTokers have been making headlines by creatively trolling the Trump campaign. They even targeted its online store, filling their shopping carts with thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise in hopes that the move would cost his campaign money and “screw” with the inventory.

So, what is brand activism, exactly?

Influencing sustainable consumer behaviors ... how's that going?

Read the latest Sociocultural Trend Tracker research from our Brands for Good collaboratory and The Harris Poll — which examines consumer progress in adopting more sustainable behaviors, as well as brand trust scores during this unprecedented confluence of societal crises.

Brand activism is when a brand takes a stand to help drive change to help solve the most urgent problems facing society — based on its own beliefs, purpose and values. As Philip Kotler and Christian Sarkar suggest in their book, Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action, it is “how progressive businesses are taking stands to create a better world.” 

And lately, we’ve seen some pretty good examples; such as Ben & Jerry’s and other brands’ efforts to end racism; the Penzey Spice company looting its own store in support of Black Lives Matter; Burger King and Ronald McDonald sharing a kiss in support of gay pride; and Olay showing up with its first float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to help close the STEM gap for women.

Some groups dismiss brand activism and things like the temporary withdrawal of brands from advertising on Facebook as little more than PR stunts. But we here at Grounded strongly believe that brand activism is here to stay and can transform purpose into profit.

Here are five reasons why: 

  1. Gen Z is growing in influence and they aren’t stopping: As Dr. Arlo Brady, CEO of Freuds, comments: “The recent rise of backyard activism is vital, and it can often act as a ‘gateway drug’ for action on the Global Goals. Gen Z gets hooked on impact, much like a gondola-end BOGO deal in the supermarket that you spy from the street, it pulls you in.” Gen Z also has tremendous buying power — an estimated $143 billion in the United States alone. And let’s face it — buying power is power. 

  2. Activism moves the PR machine: As Adam Fetcher points out in Fast Company: “There are a lot of organizations that desire to emulate Ben & Jerry’s but lack a serious history of working on behalf of causes larger than their own success. There’s no manual, and there are no shortcuts to credibility. It requires a willingness to build a foundation that’s not driven by PR. If you can focus on impact over attention, the press will cover your efforts with the depth it merits — at a time when you actually deserve it.”  

  3. People expect brands to fill the gap: “By choosing brands that align with their values, shoppers are voting with their wallets for the kinds of businesses they want in the world — and paving the way toward a more sustainable and just economy. We’re in an unfortunate time where Governments and Institutions provide less and less moral leadership, and we now expect to see it from the brands we buy,” says B the Change.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer also finds 81 percent of consumers say they expect brands to do the right thing, and 71 percent say that placing profit before people will lose their trust forever. 

  1. Purpose-driven brands perform better: According to Deloitte, Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction. “This trend is only set to strengthen as young people around the world are growing up with a deeper sense of purpose than previous generations and are seeking out products that directly support causes about which they care.” Brand Z has also correlated brand Purpose to brand power (salience, meaning and differentiation). Omni-channel, omnipresent retail pretty much guarantees physical availability. Building mental availability, however, is much more expensive, fragile and harder to win.

  2. Brand Activism is paving the road to growth: The Deloitte report goes on to say: “By leading with purpose, being authentic in how they tell stories and articulate their impact, focusing on all humans and imbibing empathy, many of these companies are outpacing their competitors and leaving an impact on everyone they touch.” So, if you are looking to buy into a brand that will grow in value and also help to make the world a better place — basically, choose an activist brand.

As a B Corp that helps brands, retailers and non-profits activate purpose at retail, we wholeheartedly agree. Activism starts from the inside out. There is no rule book. There is no relief from responsibility and things aren’t always going to go to plan … and you know what? That’s OK. 

Be authentic. Understand your unique purpose then connect the ‘why’ of your purpose with the ‘way’ of profit by taking a stand at the intersection of what your brand stands for and uniquely offers, what the world needs and what people want.

Image credit: The Brands for Good Pull Factor Report

Then, if the engine of commerce, fueled by social innovation and kept in check by an ever more conscious consumer can create sustainable, scalable solutions for what the world needs and what people want, then brands can and should become the most powerful instruments for change the world has ever seen.

Now that’s activism done right, in our book. 


Find out more about how brand activism is shaping brands and consumer behavior. Join us at YMS:ONLINE USA on 28th & 29th October — a living environment showcasing the best in youth culture, future tech, and demonstrating the buying habits of the next generation. Get a 50 percent discount by using the code: Grounded50.

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