2017 has seen a major trend in advertising develop where companies take a stand on a political issue in an attempt to prove to their customers that they can put their money where their values are. It’s called ‘brand activism’ and we’ve seen some truly spectacular examples of it in the last few months. Pepsi became the laughing stock of the internet with their #JoinTheMovement advertisement, whereas Airbnb were applauded for their #WithRefugees campaign, which offered free housing to people affected by Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban.’
Previously, most brands have chosen to remain apolitical rather than take a stand on current political issues. This was done to avoid alienating customers who may not necessarily agree with what a brand has to say. But now they’re banking on the fact that people are politically engaged and enraged, and want their brands to reflect that.
However, companies have a history of getting it wrong on sensitive political issues. Take the overuse of the LGBTIQ pride flag in advertising, for example. Over the last 30 years it has been used to sell everything from energy drinks to banks. And yet, slapping a rainbow on a cookie has gotten us no closer to marriage equality in Australia.
The common theme amongst failed attempts around brand activism are a lack of authenticity and intention; in 2017 you cannot buy your way onto the bandwagon and not expect immediate consequences and sweeping reactions if you drastically miss the mark.
Below we take a look at some examples of brands trying to be woke, getting it wrong, and getting owned for it.
- By: Nevena Spirovska