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Activism – The New ‘Sex’ that Sells

activism

It’s out with sex and in with activism; marketing and branding specialists alike have dubbed 2017 as the year that “activism comes of age”.

Following a series of polarizing elections and debates, it’s clear that the world is now more divided than ever. Demonstrations, protests, and marches fill our streets and dominate the conversations on our social media feeds – there simply is no avoiding the topic of activism. Fuelled by millennials – who see themselves as active agents of social change – this wave of social activism has set off new ripples in the marketing world.

It’s gone beyond supporting a cause – audiences are now demanding that everyone else does the same. And while this may present a risk of alienating segments of their consumers, brands are beginning to dip their toes into politics. The potential virality of brand activism in the era of social media marketing has helped brands gain more exposure, attract new customers and cement old loyalties. In most cases, the benefits far outweigh the harm.

No longer excused from sidestepping conversations about pertinent socio-political issues, it does little good for a brand to remain sitting on the fence. Take Uber for instance. Earlier this year, the company suffered a major setback after the hashtag #DeleteUber trended worldwide on Twitter. Close to 200,000 users deleted or deactivated their accounts within minutes, following allegations that the company was endorsing Trump’s controversial immigration policies by remaining neutral during protests. Meanwhile, in announcing its $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, Lyft (Uber’s competitor) received high praise for its denunciation of Trump’s outrageous executive order. By the thousands, angry consumers began switching their allegiance to Lyft and within hours, the company saw a drastic expansion of its user base – exceeding the numbers of Uber for the first time.

Riddled by heightened emotions and drastic political changes, consumers want to be more involved – associating themselves only with brands that share the same ideologies and values. Consumers are making their voices heard with their wallets: every purchase is a political statement. Thus, explaining the biggest rise in brand activism observed in the history of marketing and advertising. But riding this wave seems a lot easier said than done. While brands like Heineken and Dove have successfully crafted campaigns around the importance of unity and feminism respectively, others like Pepsi have completely missed the mark.

Heralded as “The Great Pepsi Shakeup” the three minute Ad was quickly pulled following the global #boycottPepsi on Twitter. Commentators on social media were understandably aggrieved – accusing Pepsi of appropriating imagery from the real protests and completely undermining the dangers and frustrations of these group of people. In attempting to resonate with the millennials, Pepsi completely neglected the most important aspect of brand activism: sincerity. Attempting to “join the conversation” (as preached) without discussing real issues, portrays the brand as opportunistic and more detrimentally, offensive.

Following this fiasco, Heineken, on the other hand, made a political statement of their own with a video titled “Worlds Apart: An Experiment.” Six strangers, each with diametrically opposed socio-political views were paired and encouraged to foster an understanding and open friendship despite their differences. Where Pepsi enraged, Heineken pulled at the heartstrings of its viewers. In this, there are two key differences:

(a) Heineken’s Ad discussed real controversial issues concerning transgender rights, climate change, and feminism while Pepsi adopted a more generic claim for unity and peace – whilst appropriating the imagery of real protests.

(b) Heineken proposed an actual, practical solution of encouraging discourse and fostering understanding despite our differences, instead of portraying themselves as the miraculous solution to all problems.

Gone are the days where sex was enough to sell. In the advent of progressive political changes, consumers and audiences alike have become more politically engaged, often interacting on social media where reputations are made or lost within a matter of minutes – aka the age of the millennials. Ultimately, as much as consumers love thought-provoking ads that tackle the real-world issues we face today, brands should always remind themselves that sincerity and authenticity should underlie all efforts geared towards harnessing the power of brand activism.

Posted by Roselynda Afandi, CorpMedia

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