The New Age of CEO Activism
The world is changing and changing for the better. There is a clear vision of what can be and what must be done: today, the response seems to be action, targeted at social wellbeing, and the question for those who decide to take the path of social commitment is: what are the advantages?
If the answer “many” seems to be taken for granted, when dealing with companies and businesses the situation has not always been so clear, but never before has it been so evident that doing something (and doing it well) is the best way to ensure a competitive advantage in the 21st century. Purpose is pointless without action: as Benjamin Franklin used to say, “do well by doing good”.
A systematic and targeted action is needed to solve the most urgent problems that society must tackle: not only people are joining in but also brands, which are increasingly deciding to make a stand socially, thereby exploiting and increasing their relevance.
Financial and political corruption, unemployment, poverty and social inequality, criminality, violence and health care are the five major concerns of the world’s citizens: society demands that businesses, both public and private, become increasingly involved in social problems and determined to solve them.
“To prosper over time, every company must not only provide economic results but also demonstrate how it can make a positive contribution to benefit the whole of society,” said Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Blackrock, one of the largest savings management companies in the world.
In such a profoundly polarised world, it is no longer possible to remain neutral, a position must be taken, a cause adopted, an ideal shared. This increasingly common and significant phenomenon is called Brand Activism, that is, when companies manage to represent a significant ideal with a holistic approach, over and above the promotion of their product, and when they manage to incorporate this ideal for all intents and purposes within their DNA.
According to the marketing guru, Philip Kotler, “Brand Activism consists of the effort of businesses aimed at promoting and managing social, political, economic and environmental reforms with the aim of improving society”.
Today, there are many high-profile examples that illustrate the way in which brands are trying to stand out through a clear message of value. Nike is in the front line, with the choice of Colin Kaepernik as the face of its advertising campaign. The American football player has not been engaged by any team for some time, after he kneeled during the pre-match national anthem in 2016 as a sign of protest against police violence towards ethnic minorities. Nike chose Kaepernik in spite of the risk of losing all those consumers who do not agree with the player’s way of thinking.
Similarly, Patagonia has launched an initiative to safeguard the Snake river, the main habitat of salmon in the United States, taking on an environmentalist cause perfectly in line with the ideals that its brand has always represented.
An Italian example is provided by Prada, which, for its spring/summer 2020 collection, definitively abandoned furs, signing up to the Fur Free Alliance and demonstrating through its actions how innovation and social and environmental responsibility are part of the Group’s founding values.
If Brand Activism is not perceived as authentic and part of the mission, however, it can be a double-edged sword: an example is the case of Pepsi, whose advertising campaign with Kendall Jenner was withdrawn soon after the launch. The advert showed the model abandoning a photo shoot to take part in a protest with other demonstrators: this must have seemed so inconsistent that it sparked a public insurrection on all the social media.
In the automobile sector, luxury car brands like Mercedes, Audi and BMW, as well as companies like Amazon and Paypal in e-commerce and finance services, feature in the ten names in the classification of the most relevant brands for the creation of personalised content and therefore impact. Authentic content and genuine initiatives. Swarovski, Google, Kinder, Ferrero and Nutella are the other brands that make up the top ten.
To emerge from the crowd, standing out among the multitude of similar messages, and become indispensable: this is the objective companies are setting themselves when they decide to disseminate a corporate philosophy with authenticity that presents the ideas and reasons that have led to the origin of a solid reality. The existing correlation between the effectiveness of the content and the impact of a brand on personal wellbeing is increasingly clear: the greater the impact in contributing to the wellbeing of society, the more brands acquire value and relevance.
According to the 2019 edition of Meaningful Brands, the proprietary research of Havas Group, which provides increasingly accurate insight into establishing the right connections between people and brands by connecting them with the business results, if 77% of current world brands suddenly vanished, nothing would change in the lives of consumers.
In this regard, the dynamics are definitely changing and companies are concentrating on affirming their relevance by embarking on new pathways in order to increase their impact and so their influence on the metrics correlated to those of business.
Authenticity, transparency, credibility. It is essential for companies to tell the truth. Consumers are increasingly well-informed and responsible: almost two thirds of them prefer to buy goods from companies that have a shared aim that reflects their values and personal beliefs and almost half are willing to switch from their current brands to similar products but with a better purpose. Brands and partners that really listen to consumers must accept that the linchpin of their purpose lies in a widespread organisational transformation.