Brand activism and the fear of going all-in

Brand activism and the fear of going all-in
#Marketing #Ideas

Following a newsletter and a discussion, my colleague Mattia shaped our thoughts on brand activism. Engaging is never risk-free, and Pride Month is the perfect time to talk about courage.

It’s only the beginning of the month, and you’ve probably seen more rainbows lately than the rest of the year. Why? For Pride Month, celebrating LGBTQ+ rights and their historical role.

If you haven’t noticed or reflected on this, try identifying brands that changed their social media profile pictures for Pride.

Before diving into the damaged state of affairs, let’s look at the origin story of Pride. This might help a Social Media Manager looking for post inspiration.

A Lesson on Pride

For those unaware of the reason behind these celebrations and fearing interviews by journalists proving ignorance, here’s a brief history.

Everyone else can skip to the next section.

On the night of June 28, 1969, New York police raided Stonewall Inn, a Manhattan bar popular with the LGBTQ+ community. The patrons resisted rightfully, leading to clashes, protests, and public outrage. The unrest continued for six days, evolving into a revolt against oppression and discrimination.

When peace returned on July 2, 1969, the LGBT rights movement stepped into the spotlight, gaining global media attention. Communities organized better, formed new associations, and became more visible in their fight for equality.

The first Pride marches, originally commemorating Stonewall, evolved into celebrations of LGBTQ+ identity.

End of the lesson.

brand activism

Why this article?

Among the first newsletters I followed, one by Francesco Oggiano, a journalist and writer, often sparks interesting discussions between Alessio and me. In a recent edition, he touched on brand activism and Pride Month, highlighting the “Target vs. US right-wing” issue.

Target, after promoting Pride-themed items for June, faced a 20% stock drop (about $12 billion), boycotts, and staff attacks, leading them to remove or hide rainbow merchandise.

Are we ready to risk everything for a cause?
I know this isn’t new for regular visitors, as Alessio has explored it in other articles. Rather than discussing “why brand activism is important” or “the benefits of brand activism,” we used the journalist’s example to question when businesses will truly embrace such a strategy.

We’re not just talking about memes or TikTok videos, but entering discussions on crucial and often divisive topics like the environment, civil rights, and social justice.

Increasingly Polarized, Aggressive, and Frightened

Oggiano’s example shows even big brands sometimes misjudge the context and consequences of their actions. Target might have expected some boycotts, but not a $12 billion loss.

This isn’t about rainbow-washing (Target has supported the cause for years), but an overly optimistic reading of the current American and global political climate.

Gone are the days of moderate debates. The gray areas are disappearing, and values are becoming more radical. Choosing a side means alienating those on the other, especially in an environment favoring “Filter-bubbles” or “Echo-chambers,” which don’t encourage human well-being and evolution.

However, this shouldn’t deter us from asserting our ideals; instead, it should encourage finding new ways to communicate and open reflective spaces. Alas, it’s not always so.

Brand Activism

Doing Right Without Drawing Attention

Small actions can have big impacts: a different logo, a post on the topic, or if you’re daring, a company outing to a local march can make a difference. Wait for June to end, and you’ve done your part for the year. It’s not much, but it’s honest work (rest in peace Dave Brandt). Now, you can quietly continue supporting the cause.

If we’re slowly realizing it’s unethical (and unstrategic) to support such topics solely for commercial reasons, we must also contend with the fear of freely communicating our initiatives for fear of repercussions, reinforcing the status quo.

There’s still a long way to go before we can talk about true brand activism. Like a person, the steps are different: introspection, understanding, finding courage, communicating, and listening.

This is also the extra step marketing is attempting. Beyond content creation, editorial plans, videos, and other activities, we increasingly need people to offer time and tools to answer, “Where do we want to go?”

Without this answer, engaging in major topics is senseless. Better to stay put.

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