Activism Marketing Explained



The Changing Face of Activism Marketing in a Post-2020 World

In a modern world defined by homogenised corporate culture and ever-competitive market conditions, authentic activism is a powerful new currency. The ability to stand up, speak up, and create a narrative around your brand can be incredibly beneficial. From broad environmental and social issues to gender equality and racial justice. There are many ways to activate your brand and define yourself as socially responsible. Let’s take a look at the current state of marketing activism and why it’s never been more important to make your voice heard.

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything”. – Peter Marshall

The rise of activism in 2020

The rise of social and political activism spread across the world in 2020. People from all walks of life were inspired to take action due to racial, gender, and economic inequalities, climate change, and environmental destruction, among other causes. From the murder of George Floyd to global wildfires and prominent sexual abuse cases. A number of powerful events have captured global attention and catalysed social movement. Commercial organisations have become important actors in many of these stories, including the Black Lives Matter and #Metoo movements.


The acceleration of social and environmental consciousness has been fuelled by the media coverage of disruptive events. There are many examples of profound changes driven by media. From individual citizens filming police crimes to in-depth reporting of sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. Isolated incidents have sparked massive global movements. For example, 28 million users in #BlackoutTuesday and over 55,000 #Metoo hashtags per day during the movement’s peak. Much of this happened amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic. With COVID-19 uniting people around the world in fear, uncertainty, and the hope for a brighter tomorrow.


The rise of the conscious consumer

There has never been a greater need for authentic human connections, as activism and media unite through the power of the conscious consumer. Significant changes in consumer perception and market behaviour have led to increased activism by many companies. While some brands are scared to get involved in controversial cases, changing demographics and divergent access to social platforms continue to normalise many aspects of activism. For example, the sharp rise of inclusivity in marketing to women helped to spurn the #Metoo movement, and the increased racial diversity of many consumer markets helped to drive #BLM.


The rise of the conscious consumer has paralleled the proliferation of digital communications. Social media platforms inspire, educate, and promote in equal measure. Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram have led the charge, as brands connect aspirational images and content with inspiring messages for change. Market acceptance regarding specific social movements is widely dependent on the particulars of demographics and industry sector. However, there is a growing need for brands to be seen as relevant, engaged, and authentic in their interactions.


What is Activism Marketing?

Brand activism occurs whenever a company shares its opinion on social, economic, environmental, or political issues. This opinion should always align with the company’s defined values, with brand activism noted by considered decisions and purposeful delivery.

There is an assumption that corporations indulge in activism as a form of “performative” marketing to boost their sales and expand their market. However, while public opinion undoubtedly drives corporate behaviour, ultimately, successful brand activism is dependent on market relevance, authenticity, and the quality and timing of message delivery. Brands engage in activism for many reasons. Solidifying their consumer base around a specific cause or attempting to expand their market through relevant cultural signifiers. While activism marketing is undoubtedly a “show,” it’s also about bringing people together and standing up in the crowded marketplace to stake a cultural claim. With it’s good intentions, activism marketing is gaining momentum due to its success as a marketing strategy. According to a study by Cone Communications on corporate social responsibility (CSR), 91% of millennials and 85% of the general population would switch from one brand to another because of a cause.


Examples of activism marketing

There are many prominent examples of successful activism marketing and more than a few failures along the way. Businesses that achieved commercial success did so because they delivered a strong message that aligned with their products, services, and values. The market has a lot of power to promote and instigate change, as the following examples show:

  • A number of huge global businesses, including Amazon, Apple, and Uber, have successfully aligned with BLM objectives and advocacy organisations focused on racial equality and criminal justice.

  • Shareholders worth a collective $620 billion pressured key sponsors like Nike and FedEx to terminate their relationship with the Washington Redskins unless the team name was changed.

  • In direct response to an order by President Trump to close America’s borders to refugees, Airbnb aired an ad during the Super Bowl to promote a “We Accept” message that aligned perfectly with their inclusive cultural values.

  • Patagonia is the perfect example of a company that engages successfully in a number of authentic activism marketing campaigns in an effort to create positive environmental change.

From disruptive campaigns affecting entire industry sectors to single companies going it alone in an effort to save the world, activism marketing comes in many shapes and sizes.


Activism marketing for start-ups and smaller businesses

Activism marketing can be used to great effect by smaller businesses and start-ups looking to establish themselves in the marketplace. Being politically active can be a calculated risk for many established brands. However, activism creates new and valuable opportunities for emerging companies that are operating from a clean slate. New brands have a great opportunity to target and engage new markets. Social and political activism a great way to communicate key values to a group of like-minded people.


Having an authentic political stance helps to demonstrate credibility, capability, and relevance. All of these assets are very important for a start-up. Activism marketing also helps to build support and loyalty among people with shared values. This makes it ideal for building a brand and cementing a community. The advantages of activism are even more pronounced for youth markets, with 90% of millennials saying they would switch brands to one associated with a cause.


How to deploy activism marketing

In order to be effective, activism marketing requires market insight and active communication delivered with expertise. Whether you want to use traditional advertising or social media. It’s important to reach out and engage people on their own terms. From your logo and website to your packaging and messaging, your brand is a promise you make to the market. When you deploy activism as part of your branding, this promise needs to align with the core values you are trying to project. While the power of this strategy is undisputed, it does come with additional risks if you lack understanding of the subject matter or expertise in the message delivery.


The following attributes are an essential part of activism marketing:

  • Authenticity – It’s important to choose social and environmental causes that align with your vision and industry sector. Authenticity is much more than a buzzword. It’s the single essential ingredient that connects your brand with the intended meaning of the movement.

  • Engagement – Being aware of an issue is not enough. You need to engage your market and create a flowing two-way conversation based on feedback and mutual respect. It’s important to listen carefully, speak clearly, and analyse each campaign in terms of reach and impact.

  • Expert delivery – Activism marketing can be risky if you get the message, timing, or delivery mechanism even slightly wrong. In order to benefit commercially from activism marketing, it’s essential to use the services of an experienced marketing company.

Activism marketing has an important role to play in how modern companies define themselves in relation to the world outside. Activism marketing is potentially very powerful and it’s definitely here to stay. When you create an authentic connection, and deliver your message in a way that aligns with your core values it is possible to have a positive impact and boost your commercial success.


To learn more about Activism Marketing listen to our podcast episode 3.