Today CEOs of business sharks like Nike or Starbucks introduce a political sense to their marketing. Brand activism became a significant arm in the competitive market fight. Can a small company afford to take a stand?


What is brand activism?

A couple of years ago, the brand’s involvement in politics could be equated with business suicide. But now the taking sides has become almost a requirement for a successful company in the market. More and more brands are incorporating activist narratives or initiatives in their marketing strategy. Those who voice their political and societal preferences pose themselves apart from the market crowd.

The first examples of the brand activism began to attract society back in the late 70’s with the emergence of the Generation X, which stretches to freedom and independence. Today it reached a critical level. In 2017, when the institutions’ credibility is undermined, consumers vote with the dollar, choosing those who show transparency and commitment to similar values. The public is seeking brands who have courage to announce their views and take a risk standing up.

You “drive” brand political

During the turbulent presidential campaign of 2016, many brands were caught between two fires in political debates. At a time when consumers make a choice, disputes in society literally force brands to openly take a position until society itself has made its subjective conclusions. For this reason, last year Uber lost at least 200,000 users during the #DeleteUber campaign.

Through activism businesses can show that they care about the same things as their customers and potentially create a core of loyalists. – Jason Foo, CEO of advertising agency BBD Perfect Storm

While analysts believe that brand engagement in activism is a side-effect of a series of global social shifts, including Brexit and Trump election, some experts are still confident that this is not a sudden response to contemporary challenges, but a long-running process that has been accelerated by the presence of brands in the social space (media accounts and campaigns, etc.).


Fight for millennial consumer

Today’s consumer today has all the means to be an activist without leaving home. The millenials do not leave brands with any other choice but to adapt and meet the needs of their loyal consumers in a polarized space. Thanks to the development of social media, marketers will not find it difficult to learn the political preferences and opinions of users, what’s more important is that today brands are demanded to know this.

To date, consumption has become one of the ways to declare its active position in some issue. Brands give users the opportunity to stand behind their backs without any personal sacrifice. It is much more convenient for us to buy a beautiful T-shirt with an activist drawing or drink coffee from the refugee-defending company than to personally rebel at the wall on the Mexico border. If the brand allows сonsumers not to change their life, while comforting the urge of the their social conscience, they will gladly invest in it. Smart brands that are acquainted with their audience from the inside know about this approach and use it in their marketing campaign.

91% of all millennial will swap a brand to one with a cause. – Philippe von Borries, founder of Refinery 29.

Users prefer those brands that show their own social consciousness, having strict ethical principles. Today it is called a business with a purpose.

Millennial consumers approach brands as potential social leaders, because it is obvious that the consumed products shape the culture and reflect our personality in society. For society to endow the brand with authority, it must clearly record its values and be an example of a moral social leader.


Should small companies risk taking a stand?

As we already wrote, taking up an active position in some matter of business distinguishes itself from its competitors in the market. This is risky, because it can lead to both loss of customers and attraction of new fans.

Today, brands are trying to understand in which cases and how they need to declare themselves. In most cases, such decisions are made by an experienced team of marketers and advertisers. However, speaking of small businesses, they often have no such resources. They do not have a crisis manager, which in case of what will save small company from drowning. Nevertheless,

There is a fascinating risk-reward equation [in activism]. But it is likely to generate more attention for your small business. – Jason Foo, CEO of advertising agency BBD Perfect Storm

According the manager for Ben & Jerry’s Chris Miller, “decentralized, democratized social media channels offer brands and companies the opportunity to connect more emotionally and around a shared set of values with people.” Common values can be a guarantee of unconditional loyalty of brand fans.

There several ways brands became politically engaged. Based on this difference of ”coming-out” we made two lists of small companies that emerged to brand activism.


Sometimes media channels are the only opportunity for small companies to introduce activism into their marketing campaign. Twitter, Instagram, blogging … Such resources allow you to reach the largest possible audience, having spent a minimum of funds and creating a close, almost intimate connection with your consumer.


Looking at this underwear company’s motto ”Because every woman deserves peace of mind” and its special treatment of a woman body, you will not be surprised that it has feminist aspirations. Thinx introduced a periodic column on their website called This Week in Feminism, which keeps consumers up to date about cases and events referring to the women’s movement.


After several years of working for Brooks Brothers, Nikki Kule took concept she developed throughout her life and launched her own clothing brand Kule predominantly for women. Usually the runner of the fashion brand follows SMM rules keeping the scheduled Instagram commercial posting.  But after Trump’s election she added pictures from Women’s March in NYC encouraging followers to join the event.


This protest event also inspired the founder of fashion brand The Willary to take a stand. Debbie published a blog piece  telling about dressing-up for the Women’s March. ”My goal here is to make sure you’re outfitted to safely and comfortably demonstrate, no matter whose clothes you end up wearing”. It was a smart move for the company’s marketing to encourage reader to remain strong while promoting The Willary’s design creations.


Concerned about Tramp’s indecisive promises about immigrants, Jonathan Wiesner, CEO of the clothing brand Threads For Thought, shared his fears about this issue in the company’s blog. ”We encourage you, our customers, to join us and advocate on behalf of all refugees.” Without dwelling on this, the company created a #RefugeesWelcome T-shirt, the proceeds from which it donates to the International Rescue Committee.


A designer from US Lauren Brokaw takes inspiration from pop-culture and her travelling and creates affordable jewelry as a brand Stell&Bow. She voiced her position on the #MuslimBan sharing a meme from the movie Clueless with the company’s Instagram audience. She also added such fairly straightforward hashtags as #notmypresident #dumptrump #nobannowall.


Take a stand. Literally.

More traditional path to become active is the implementation of advertising actions, campaigns, discounts, driven by the social issues.

DR Gigs

Each year, promoting the idea of peace, the Dr Zigs team conducts an original social action in London. Participants inflate giant bubbles in crowded streets to infect people with simple little happiness. the team at Bangor-based Dr Zigs head to London armed with bubble mix kits and wave their wands to create gigantic bubbles, hoping to inject a burst of happiness into the crowds.

When I set up Dr Zigs, it had to have a social conscience and a voice, and be a vehicle for me to talk about social justice in a positive way. – Paola Dyboski-Bryant, Dr Zigs founder.

Ben & Jerry’s

This ice-making company has a page on their website called “Socially Responsible Causes Ben & Jerry’s Has Advocated for”. There you can find almost 30-year history of Ben&Jerry’s brand activism. It started in 1988 when a small US company announced a peace-promoting campaign “1% for Peace”.

I submit that Ben & Jerry’s, a funny little company from Vermont, would never have gotten anywhere near their 40% market share in super-premium ice cream without its very public politics. – Shel Horowitz, a profitability consultant and PR expert.


This project is special, since it became brand thanks to activism. It was started as an Instagram account to website with pro-Muslim blogs and shops with featuring collections. According to the founders, the clothing brand Amaliah ”allows Muslim women to share their perspectives, experiences and, of course, find the right clothes”.

What we’re seeing in the Islamic economy [is] a lot of start-ups rising out of frustrations, out of feeling that we’re not catered for. – Nafisa Bakkar, CEO of Amaliah.


Marteau declared that they would donate 20% of sales to institutions and NGOs like the Center for Reproductive rights or Everytown for Gun Safety, that were compromised by Donald Trump. The action lasted until president-elect inauguration.


Howies is an example of a brand, taking responsibility for resources it uses to produce. The environmentally aware clothing is known for its principles over the past 17 years. Eco-friendly T-shirts praise slogans also on social and political issues.

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