We have to talk about brands and activism

Engaging with social causes is a current demand, but it’s only valid if it’s true and forthright

Brand activism has been gaining prominence over the past few decades. Currently, in order to remain competitive, they must build a territory with a positive impact, adopting a clear and committed position with one or more causes. In doing so, the challenge they face is how to approach it constructively, being true to the brand’s values.

Given this situation, here are some reflections to help brands understand the different types and levels of activism, along with the risks and benefits that come with them. Paths that, if followed with truth and transparency, can lead to a real and lasting commitment.

/ Different types and profiles of brand activism

Since each brand is different, we categorized several activism profiles according to the brand DNA and the relationship it intends to maintain with its stakeholders:

Superactivists: Activist brands since its creation, committed to causes related to its fundamental values, which are supported by the founding partners or general managers. They truly aspire to achieve social change and create a strong emotional bond with their followers, so much so that they often become brand ambassadors. The most well-known and successful example may be Patagonia, the outdoor lifestyle brand committed to environmental causes whose “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad encourages people to reconsider impulsive shopping. Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever) also stands out for being a brand committed since its inception to different social causes.

Paradigm Breakers: Innovative and pioneering brands in their markets. Their products and services are their hallmark of activism, as they are born expressly to change patterns. They forge an emotional bond with their consumers by meeting previously unmet needs.

Examples include Impossible Burger and Future Farm, innovative brands in the meat substitutes sector. Its mission is to reduce the environmental impact and encourage the consumption of plant-based protein.

Daring: They are the brands that, although not being so open and constantly committed, they defend their values and causes in a coherent way. They lead attractive actions and are agile in taking a stand on current issues that fit and connect with their values, joining the conversation and fostering debate. For example, Starbucks in the United States has been involved in social justice issues, banning guns in its stores, supporting same-sex marriage and fomenting debate about racism.

Responsible: Companies where brand activism is not evident in their pillars or communication channels, but is part of the brand territory. It is a more traditional and discreet commitment, without generating conversation or controversy. In addition to taking corporate action, these companies are aware that their product portfolio must be aligned with sustainability and latent requirements to promote real change in society and on the planet. Adidas, launched its iconic Stan Smith x Mylo sneakers, with a material made from mushrooms that offers an alternative to animal leather, thus producing its first sustainable shoes.

Below, we list the pros and cons that every brand should consider before taking a stand.

/ Advantages

Strengthen internal engagement: gain internal support and attract new talent.

Increase awareness: raising your voice can be more effective than traditional propaganda to draw attention and have exposure on social media with relevance and truthfulness.

Increase loyalty: show intentional engagement so consumers can help build loyalty and cultivate a strong emotional relationship.

Win new consumers: positive attitude and actions can be that plus to convince more people to experiment with the brand’s products and services.

Increase sales: brand action can lead ambassadors/followers to boycott, deliberately seeking to stimulate the purchase of your products/services.


Trigger internal conflicts: not all employees may share their brand opinion or engagement in a cause, primarly if it is politics.

Discourage the founders or the board: taking risks is not usually well seen in the financial market, being able to lead to loss of stock market value or losing endanziation.

Encourage cancellation: be canceled on social media, such as generating controversy in brand feedback and not being liked by everyone (or a significant part of your followers) because it is considered incorrect or in bad taste.

Incite boycott: moment of rejection of the brand. Remember that a reputation stain can remain in the brand’s history (or on the Internet) forever.

Losing consumers: the opinion of a brand can degrade so much that some consumers, who are not very loyal, may drastically prefer the competition.

So, how can brand activism be a long-term, authentic, minimal-risk commitment?

/ Best practices for positive, real and lasting impact

 We suggest 8 steps to achieve it:

1. Define a clear and powerful brand positioning: What is the reason to be of the brand, its beliefs? What is its DNA, personality and target audience?

2. Choose your battles: It is necessary to identify the causes in which it will have credibility. They must be aligned with the core values of the brand.

3. Define stakeholders: In addition to the target audience and consumers, who else does the brand impact, directly or indirectly, externally or internally? Stakeholders include employees and their families, the board of directors and investors, influencers, specialized media, government and social partners.

4. Look at the brand’s track record (and its present moment): Although the brand purpose may have evolved over the years, the past cannot be ignored. It is important to review previous actions, statements and campaigns to assess the credibility in committing to a particular issue.

5. Define the brand activism profile: Feedback from stakeholders deserve attention. The brand must learn from its mistakes and successes and act quickly.

6. Identify potential risks: The more renowned the brand is, the more important it is to assess the risks and benefits of taking a stance – or of staying neutral.

7. Walk the talk: Promises, great speeches or fierce campaigns are not enough to guarantee a brand’s survival without significant and real actions to support them. Consumers expect the brand to engage in a realistic and tangible way, and if it doesn’t, they will ask for it.

8. Listen to feedback: Feedback from stakeholders deserve attention. The brand must learn from its mistakes and successes and act quickly.

It is proven that activism is not an ephemeral trend, but a change in today’s society. Therefore, despite the fact that each brand and market is in totally different situations, it is essential to start acting and transforming in order to successfully adapt to the upcoming.