Monday, April 16, 2018

Blog Post 10: Why Brands Are Under Increasing Pressure to Be Transparent About What They Believe In

Increasingly, brands are feeling compelled to enter the political arena and articulate their stances on the issues of the day. Much of the pressure to do so can be attributed to the ascendency of direct-to-consumer brands that view activism as intrinsic to their brand identity. Popular examples, like Warby Parker's Buy a Pair, Give a Pair or Tom's One for One shoe programs, abound. However, brands, virtually all of which attempt to cultivate a distinct voice across their social media profiles, have felt pressure from the #MeToo, #TimesUp and #BoycottNRA movements to pick a side publicly.

Brands can no longer avoid these issues or placate their customers with a canned PR statement. Consumers are demanding that brands articulate their values, take a stand and back it up with thoughtfully buying ad inventory from the right channels (i.e. not Laura Ingraham). (One interesting consequence of this has also been the wellspring of ad agencies who specialize in purpose-drive clients.)

Most brands, however, choose a middle path and avoid issues unless they are particularly important to their customers. An example of this was when President Trump announced the Big Ears National Monument which moved public lands over to private oil and mining companies. Companies like Patagonia, REI and North Face publicly opposed the move despite the risk of alienating customers. REI has since commented that the response from their customers was overwhelmingly positive and that stances like this were pro-environment not Democrat or Republican.

The key factor with these initiatives is authenticity. If a brand is to take a stance it needs to align with their core brand identity and values. Simply speaking up is not enough to gain public approval. In fact, taking a public stance can be so off key, it can cause far more damage to the brand than had they stayed silence. The best example of this is the infamous Pepsi Kendall Jenner TV ad, where the model attempts to quell a riot by handing the police officer a can of Pepsi. The negative response was widespread and Pepsi pulled the ad quickly. Pepsi attempted to leverage social-movement like Black Lives Matter for commercial gain and came off as inauthentically trying to latch on to a trend.

The demand for brands to take a public stance on political and social issues is likely to grow as Generation Z ages. Surveys show that this forthcoming generation cares more about brand values than any prior; 90% say they are only loyal to brands who share their values. The need for brands to take risks and publicly state their identity and values will continue to grow. One can expect more faux pas, but hopefully a more socially conscious ad environment as well.

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