Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Brand Activism in 2021

In today’s society, brands can’t just satisfy consumers by putting out new products. In order to stay relevant, current brands must stand for a cause and authentically do good in the world. 

In today’s society, brands can’t just satisfy consumers by putting out new products. In order to stay relevant, current brands must stand for a cause and authentically do good in the world. 

“Doing good isn’t something you learn in marketing school, you have to feel it in your heart,” said Ciara Dilley, Vice President Transform Brands & Portfolio Innovation, Frito Lay North America, PepsiCo at a Brand Innovators’ livecast. “Having an authentic purpose has an impact on every aspect of a company: employee retention, brand growth, sales, and much more. The more deeply you explore your purpose and dedicate your brand to it, the easier it becomes.” 

Globally, more than 90% of consumers prefer to support purpose-driven brands. Furthermore, over 70% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers elect to champion brands which have purposes that they personally identify with (Forbes). On the company side, 9 out of 10 business leaders today believe that purpose-led brands have a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace (Porter Novelli). 

However, it’s not enough for companies to tack a statement of purpose onto their brand messaging. Brands must actively engage in activism in the causes of their choice, whether it’s social justice, diversity & inclusion, or sustainability, in order to actually enact change in the world. Consumers easily see through brands who treat activism like a passing trend. 

Danone North America is using their platform to tackle the issue of hunger, food insecurity, and food waste in the U.S. through their greek yogurt brand Two Good. As a brand, Two Good is not only a healthier low sugar yogurt option but also a pioneer in the food waste community with the mission to do more good with less. 

“We introduced the yogurt industry’s first one-for-one model, One Cup, Less Hunger,” said Surbhi Martin, Vice President of Marketing at Danone North America in an interview. “Our one-for-one commitment is simple: for every cup of yogurt purchased, Two Good is helping rescue and provide the same amount of food to someone in need in partnership with City Harvest and We Don’t Waste. Based on our 2021 sales forecast, the annual impact will be in excess of 60 million pounds of food rescued and 37 million meals to be provided.” 

Ben & Jerry’s is another do-gooder in the dairy space. The brand supports issues such as democracy, climate justice, and racial justice, providing educational and activist resources for interested consumers on their website. They also developed a podcast series with Vox Media that examines the historical aspects of America’s racism in greater depth, titled “Who Are We: A Chronicle of Racism in America.” In the wake of the death of George Floyd during Summer 2020, Ben & Jerry’s condemned white supremacy, police brutality, and called to defund the police. A freezer favorite of many, Ben & Jerry’s social media activism made headlines in the virtual space. 

Nike also uses their digital channels to spark conversation and social change. The brand has been especially outspoken up about social justice issues involving race and democracy. Before the 2020 presidential election, Nike encouraged consumers to vote with a series of short films, You Can't Stop Our Voice, and a social media campaign using the same line as a hashtag. The clips feature both every day people and world-famous athletes like LeBron James and Odell Beckham Jr. 

In addition, Nike is putting their money where their mouth is. During 2020, the athletic brand vowed to commit $40 million over the next four years to support the Black community in the US. Additionally, Michael Jordan and his Nike-owned Jordan Brand will also donate $100 million over the next 10 years to organizations dedicated to ensuring racial equality, social justice, and greater access to education for minority communities. 

“Systemic racism and the events that have unfolded across America [in June 2020] are an urgent reminder of the continued change needed in our society," said John Donahoe, President & CEO of Nike in a press release. "We know Black Lives Matter. We must educate ourselves more deeply on the issues faced by Black communities and understand the enormous suffering and senseless tragedy racial bigotry creates. The NIKE, Inc. family can always do more but will never stop striving to role model how a diverse company acts."

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