Relationships Matter: [How To] Take A Stand

Social Activism: Here's Why Brands Can't Afford to Dismiss It

You’ve seen it emerging: CEOs for gun control, corporations devoted to sustainability and discontinuing plastic straws, brands focusing on inclusion and diversity in their messaging. Rather than fearing social and political statements, it’s becoming the norm to demonstrate brand activism. Last month, the IAB NewFronts West conference focused on this idea and established that we’re in a “No Neutral Era”: and it has everything to do with media and consumer relationships.

A fresh take on the popular UpFronts conference, NewFronts West gathered 500+ content creators, brands, and agencies to share the latest and greatest tech, media, and creative. The 2019 installment covered topics surrounding the theme of “Relationships Matter. Take a Stand”, outlining how organizations around the world are making meaningful connections with their customers and media partners. Neutrality is a thing of the past, and brands are taking bigger risks with their marketing strategies to install social purpose.

Simon Says: Put In The Effort

It’s becoming increasingly vital to connect to your consumer base and, for high-profile businesses, society at large. In terms of customer relationships, business is moving from transactional relationships towards holistic relationships where brands appeal to customer wants and needs that extend beyond the products and services they provide. According to a corporate social responsibility study by Cone Communications, 78% of Americans believe it’s essential for companies to stand up for important social issues. 

But it’s not enough to simply express support for an issue; you better be prepared to walk the walk and talk the talk. Seventy-six percent of Millennials will hold companies accountable, researching the authenticity of a company’s stance stand on social/environmental issues. Furthermore, 87% of that demographic would buy a product from a company who advocated for issues that aligned with their beliefs. And with a monstrous spending authority at $600 billion annually, brands can’t afford to dismiss Millennials’ ideals.

All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

NewFronts West highlighted what top brands have done to employ corporate social responsibility, and how they dealt with an environment where they’re simultaneously pressured to keep their bottom line intact. 

On one end of the spectrum, there are brands that naturally benefit the greater good. Chipotle has brilliantly woven sustainability measures into their business model, for example with their “Gloves To Bags” program.  SOULPANCAKE, the feel-good content producer of the famous “Kid President” series that gave us all a pep talk, asserted that they only “make stuff that matters”. Brands like this are all about fostering relationships with their audiences in the most positive way possible.

On the other side of the spectrum lie companies who have traditionally focused on sales but have found a way to incorporate activism. 

One of the larger brands represented at NewFronts West, Levi’s, has publicly voiced their staunch stance on gun control and put their money where their mouth is. Knowing it may very well alienate customers, they’ve banned guns in-store and continue to fund organizations who support “common sense regulations”. Following the Parkland, FL shootings, Levi’s turned the fallout into a creative storytelling moment with a spotlight video for their #IShapeMyWorld project with Girlgaze. Sure, some of the shots tie in fashionable Levi’s products, but the focus is clearly the overarching message and giving people (specifically, women) a platform to tell their stories. So, what has been the result? Positive affirmation and, in turn, increased sales for the denim giant.

How Can Brands ‘Take a Stand’?

Indifference and neutrality can cost you more than voicing an opinion, no matter how daring the topic. People want interaction, and they want genuine connections with the brands they trust. Taking risks and taking a stand as an organization can pay off. Social and political awareness is spreading like wildfire, so find purpose. 

Your company doesn’t need to be built around social good to ’do good’. Lean into the potential of aligning with a cause. Be bold. Take a step back from the perspective that ROI always comes first. Take your relationships with your community seriously. Take the initiative to be vocal about your opinions and stances on important topics. Take a stand.