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The Role that Brand Activism Had in 2018, and Predictions for 2019

2018 has been an interesting year when it comes to brand activism, and I’ve written in length about the role that marketing and advertising have in heated political climates. I’ve commented on everything from branding in the Trump era, to the gun lobby fiasco with Delta, FedEx, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, to Patagonia’s retail activism and beyond. If political branding and brand activism is one of my favorite topics, the last two years has certainly handed me a plate of topics to dive into.

At the tail end of 2017, I said: “One thing is for sure: [brands] no longer have the option of sitting on the sidelines watching political discourse bounce back and forth like a tennis match. In many cases, they’ll become players themselves.”

Not to toot my own horn, but, it turns out I was right. In a talk with Sandy Rubinstein, CEO of DXagency, we discussed the role that brand activism had in 2018. And, for Rubinstein, her viewpoint on brand activism is decidedly more cautious than mine.

“It is imperative for brands to make sure than brand activism is part of their core values or consumers will see it as a marketing took rather than earnest support of an issues,” she said. “Brands [also] need to weigh the possible backlash they’ll receive from consumers against the value of making a political or social point.”

And perhaps she’s right. If we look back to 2017, we’ll see that those on the far right of the spectrum caused a great deal of backlash whenever a brand sided with the left – the mass boycotts of Volvo, Keurig, Reddi-whip, and others when they pulled their ads from the Fox News Sean Hannity segment.

According to Rubinstein, “It’s important that brands take the time to consider knee-jerk reactions to supporting controversial topics.”

In other words, it is good to support things that are important to the brand, but do your due diligence and think through the right messaging strategy as to not potentially alienate your customers.

“People with differing opinions can be open to differing opinions if presented in an open and inclusive way,” she stressed.

That said, Rubinstein and I agree: In 2019, the trend will continue to grow. Activism is increasingly important to the younger members of our workforce and corporate America is seeing the push from within their organizations to advocate for issues.

“As long as brands are true to their core value, their mission, and their goals,” said Rubinstein, “supporting issues will feel like a natural extension of who they are.” 

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