Branding amid hot-button cultural movements—how to toe the line

by | Nov 14, 2019 | Analysis, Public Relations

Over the last decade or so, social movements have been blossoming and expanding around the globe. People are joining in solidarity to protest gender inequality, racism, marriage equality, and much more. Since these topics have the power to move so many people, it is only natural for brands to want to take part as well.

Now, this is actually the right move for quite a few companies. Research has shown that 50 percent of Gen Z consumers prefer brands that are socially conscious. So, joining in on social topics can be a positive move for companies. However, that’s only if it is done the right way.

Keep in mind, social movements are personal and sensitive developments. Thus, if it appears that brands are attempting to capitalize on them, there will be a swift backlash. This is precisely what happened when Pepsi decided to insert itself into the racial protest movement. The brand sets its marketing strategy back by quite a bit.

If you want to make sure that your brand tackles this process in a sensible and respectful manner, here is what you need to know:

Does your message reflect your brand personality?

People don’t appreciate brands hitching their bandwagon to social movements. So, before you go down this path, ask yourself: does your brand personality fit in with the point you are trying to make? To highlight this issue, let’s consider the Audi Super Bowl ad where a father ruminates over the gender inequality his daughter will face.

The reason that this failed to work was because Audi themselves failed rather miserably at promoting gender equality. So, the brand’s attempt to point out the flaws in the system came off sounding hypocritical. As a result, it was a total failure.

You should only espouse a message if you can prove that your brand has been a shining example of that movement in the past. Or, at the very least, your current corporate structure should line up with the message. Otherwise, avoid going down this route.

Know your intent

At the end of the day, there is a reason that your brand wants to take up a particular social cause. This is true even if you truly support the movement you want to adopt. In most instances, it is because you want your brand to appeal to a certain demographic.

Therefore, make sure that your message is heard loud and clear—there should be no confusion regarding your company’s stance. If there is even a hint of your brand straddling the fence, people will attack you from both sides. This is why well-designed, pointed content from leading agencies such as Content Stove is so important.

Your website, blog articles, and even social media interactions should convey your message well. This is the only way that your brand will appear authentic. In turn, it is the only way your target audience will actually invest in your promotion of a movement.

Take a step back—let the message do the talking

One of the reasons that brands back social movements can seem to be to raise their profile. Often, the self-promotional angle tends to fairly obvious. When this happens, a brand loses all credibility. After all, there are few things that the general public hates more than a company exploiting an important message to improve their own sales.

So, when supporting a social movement, make sure it is the message that’s front and center, not your brand. In fact, in this instance, the less that is said about your company, the better. An excellent example of this is what Skittles did to celebrate Pride month. Now, the brand and its product are known for its vibrant, rainbow-colored packaging.

However, in an attempt to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, Skittles has stripped its packaging of their trademark colors and allowed the focus to be on Pride month. The brand has chosen to take a backseat, but in doing so has managed to improve its goodwill within the community.

Look at the message from all angles

Before you approve any kind of social message, make sure that you look at it from all angles. The problem with a number of brands is that their vetting companies lack diversity. As a result, you have a relatively small portion of the demographic deciding whether a particular message is appropriate or not. This is one of the main reasons that various mistakes slip through the cracks.

So, it doesn’t matter how well-meaning your message is. Make sure that it is vetted by a wide range of people. And, if possible, have a test audience take a look at it before sending the message out into the public. This will help you avoid any embarrassing and viral PR failures later on.

It is clear that brands supporting social movements can be a positive thing for all parties involved. This, however, is dependent on how your brand chooses to back the cause. Fortunately for you, the above suggestions should give you some ideas about the dos and don’ts of this particular venture.

Christian Kittle
Christian Kittle has been part of the public relations sector for over a decade. During this time, he has worked with numerous up-and-coming brands to project renowned and reliable reputations. When he isn’t working, he coaches novices on the finer points of the industry.


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