- Brand Activism
Brand Activism: Empowering Through Experience
In the past, brands were expected to “stay in their lane” where social and political issues were concerned. Today, however, consumers’ expectations have changed. A recent study found that 70% of consumers want brands to take a stand on political and social issues. Half of consumers want brands to state those positions on social media. And more than half of consumers buy or advocate for brands based not solely on their products and services but also on their beliefs. Brand activism is popular, and here to stay.
What Is Brand Activism?
An umbrella term encompassing a range of activities, “Brand activism refers to businesses taking a public stance on what they believe in,” explains Don’t Panic, a UK-based marketing agency. This activism can support any number of causes: social, political, or environmental. Sustainability within the brand’s industry is a common theme, as are issues around racism, poverty, civil rights, and immigration.
Examples of Brand Activism
Brand activism happens when a brand weaves the activism into its overall marketing activity, or when it reacts to real-time events. Some examples:
- Calvin Klein’s trans-inclusive planned activism campaign “is a great example of working with the LGBTQ+ community to co-create a campaign that takes a stand,” Don’t Panic explains. The fashion giant also supports sustainability and social issues around equity.
- Apparel brand Patagonia has a long history of activism, promoting sustainability in fashion, conservation, and other causes.
- Ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s uses politically charged ice cream flavors to address inequality and other social issues as part of an overall activism strategy.
- After the United States Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion, Google decided to delete from its systems any location history data that could be used to prove Google users have visited a clinic that performs abortions, a move intended to thwart law enforcement attempts to punish women for seeking legal reproductive healthcare in other states.
- In the uproar following former football quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem (instead of standing, as is custom), Nike chose to make him the next face of its “Just Do It” campaign. This choice initially cost the company both cash and PR, as calls for a boycott emerged, but the brand’s share price quickly rebounded and the company reported a 10% jump in sales. Online sales jumped 31% in the four days immediately following the launch of the campaign.
As these cases illustrate, brands express their activist stances in many ways: via their products, by publicizing their practices and sourcing, and through TV or print ad campaigns or social media content.
Brands looking to advocate for their causes in a more personal, immersive, firsthand way incorporate awareness and educational content into pop-up shops, street events, and collaborations with like-minded organizations.
One notable example: Bone broth brand Kettle & Fire, which created a hybrid pop-up and activation highlighting flaws in the United States’ food system.
Creative, Immersive Pop-Up: Kettle & Fire
As part of Kettle & Fire’s broader commitment to offering healthy, nutrient-dense products, the leading bone broth brand recently made a commitment to sourcing one million pounds of regenerative beef bones by 2025. This pledge not only represents a significant step toward a healthier future but also sets an example for other brands in the industry.
These are complex topics, however, requiring nuanced messaging that’s beyond the scope of product labels and traditional marketing media.That’s why, in fall 2023, the brand worked with Promobile Marketing to develop a pop-up–activation hybrid event that would take attendees on a journey through the flawed U.S. food system and the practices Kettle & Fire has adopted for a healthier future.
Staged in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, the pop-up took over an existing space to create an immersive six-part experience:
- Product sampling: Guests received a cup of Kettle & Fire’s bone broth — a product sample offered as both a framing device and an incentive to participate.
- Firsthand exploration: Titled “Unlock the Toxic Truth,” a mock grocery store serves as the stage for an exploration of the “dirty secrets” in the U.S. food system. Handheld flashlights and black light tech enabled guests to reveal unhealthy ingredients hidden in seemingly wholesome foods.
- Storytelling: The next section, “In Memoriam: What We’ve Lost to Conventional Farming,” uses a lifesize projection wall to map changes in farming practices over the last 100 years, then introduces the concept of regenerative farming.
- Continuing the story: In “Discovering Nutrient Density,” guests explore a comparison of how meat, chicken, and vegetables have changed over time in unsustainable ways that reduce nutrient density.
- Demonstration: Guests move from the somewhat bleak exploration of food system flaws into a “hopeful, wholesome, and nutritious Thanksgiving tablescape” curated by chef/influencer Ronny Joseph Lvovski of Primal Gourmet. Recipes are made available to guests via QR code.
- Collaborations: Finally, guests arrive at a curated pantry that showcases like-minded brands. Guests can scan a QR code good toward an in-store purchase of Kettle & Fire products.
At its best, brand activism promotes awareness and educates the public about issues. Brands can promote causes via public announcements, volunteering, lobbying, donations of cash or goods, and incorporating the cause into advertising campaigns — and they can also create immersive experiences that bring the issues to life, as Kettle & Fire did with its NYC pop-up.
Rather than relying on traditional methods to get the message across, Kettle & Fire’s pop-up took guests on a detailed, immersive journey designed to tell the story of its subject in a vivid, memorable way.
What issues does your brand align with? What’s the story behind them? How might your next pop-up or brand activation use product sampling, demonstrations, storytelling, and relevant collaborations to put your message across? Not every brand aligns with issues as complex as the nationwide food system, but every issue has within it stories worth telling, and a compelling journey for consumers to explore.
Promobile Marketing is a dynamic experiential marketing agency based in New York City. For over a decade, Promobile Marketing has collaborated with a range of brands—from budding startups to major CPG brands—on immersive marketing campaigns. Get in touch to discuss your next project.