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In a world where social issues increasingly take centre stage, the role of brands in advocating for these causes has become more important than ever. For business owners in Australia, understanding the significance of brand messaging in addressing social issues is not just a trend, but a strategic imperative.

Especially now, as we head to the polls to vote on a referendum for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

The increase in publicity circling both the #YES and #NO campaigns across Australia is going to heighten in weeks to come, with brands promoting their position and aligning their company values with their decision.

It’s going to be an interesting time.

In this blog, we delve into the fascinating world of brand messaging for social issues, exploring its impact and pitfalls through three enlightening examples from the past. Ultimately, it’s up to you as to whether or not you believe larger corporate entities, institutions and businesses have the responsibility to voice their beliefs in relation to social issues. But, no matter your position, there’s no denying that a communal business voice can be one of power, promise and positivity.

Is it worth mixing corporate responsibility with social justice, and taking a stand? Let’s find out.

1. Nike Brand Messaging: The Kaepernick Effect

Kaepernick, centre, and San Francisco 49ers teammates protesting in 2016. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Nike, the sportswear giant, made headlines around the globe when it featured former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a controversial advertising campaign in 2018. Kaepernick, known for his protests against racial injustice and police brutality, had become a symbol of the ongoing struggle for civil rights in the United States.

There were positive and negative impacts of Nike’s choice to feature Kaepernick in the 2018 campaign, but both encouraged and ignited serious discussions relating to a significant portion of Nike’s target audience and customer base.

*The Positive:*

Nike’s decision to support Kaepernick’s cause was a bold move that immediately resonated with a significant portion of its target audience. It sent a powerful message about Nike’s commitment to social justice and equality. The brand’s stock initially took a hit, but it rebounded quickly, ultimately increasing in value. In Australia, this move was seen as a sign of solidarity with the global movement against racial discrimination.

*The Negative:*

Of course, there was backlash. Some consumers burned their Nike products in protest, and conservative figures called for a boycott. However, this negative reaction was outweighed by the positive response from those who applauded Nike for taking a stand. In the end, Nike’s brand message was crystal clear: they stood with Kaepernick and the fight for social justice.

2. Ben & Jerry’s: Ice Cream with a Side of Activism

Ben and Jerry’s ‘Bring Justice Back’ flavour

The iconic ice cream brand, Ben & Jerry’s, has a long history of using its sweet treats to raise awareness about various social issues. From climate change to LGBTQ+ rights and racial justice, Ben & Jerry’s isn’t just about indulgence; it’s about making a statement.

Ben & Jerry’s have continued to use their branding and voice to take a stand on many issues, which could be seen as risky when it comes to corporate profitability.

However, it seems that this value-driven approach has paid off (literally) and has been imperative in the success that is the Ben and Jerry’s brand management business model.

*The Positive:*

Ben & Jerry’s commitment to social issues is woven into its brand DNA. The company has taken strong stances on hot-button topics, providing a platform for these conversations. In Australia, their support for marriage equality and climate action resonated with many, earning them respect and loyalty from a socially conscious audience.

*The Negative:*

Critics argue that the company’s activism is nothing more than a marketing ploy. While it’s true that their brand messaging aligns with their business values, cynics question whether the brand’s activism is genuine or merely a clever way to sell more ice cream. The risk for Ben & Jerry’s is appearing insincere in their efforts to support social causes.

3. Gillette: The Best a Brand Can Be?

Gilette’s controversial ‘ The Best A Man Can Be’ Campaign ignited debate worldwide.

In early 2019, Gillette, the razor and personal care brand, released an advertisement that took on toxic masculinity and called for a cultural shift in how men treat women. The ad, titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” ignited heated debates, globally.

*The Positive:*

Gillette’s message was timely and aligned with the growing #MeToo movement. It encouraged men to be better and challenge harmful behaviors. Many praised the brand for using its platform to address a pressing social issue. In Australia, it generated conversations about masculinity and gender equality.

*The Negative:*

Critics accused Gillette of virtue signaling and exploiting social issues for profit. Some customers even boycotted the brand, arguing that a company selling razors had no place in the conversation about masculinity. Gillette took a risk by diving into this topic, and it didn’t please everyone.

So, What’s the Takeaway for Australian Business Owners?

The above examples showcase the potential rewards and risks of brand messaging on social issues. To effectively advocate for a cause, Australian business owners should consider the following:

  1. Authenticity Matters: Ensure that your brand’s commitment to a social issue aligns with your values and actions. Authenticity is key to building trust with your audience.

  2. Know Your Audience: Understand the beliefs and values of your target audience. Tailor your messaging to resonate with them while remaining true to your brand. Always, always, always remember to be kind and empathetic.

  3. Be Prepared for Pushback: Taking a stand on a social issue can be polarising. Be ready for criticism and backlash, but stand by your convictions if you believe in the cause.

  4. Consistency Is Key: Don’t engage in social issue marketing as a one-time stunt. If you choose to advocate for a cause, commit to it over the long term.

  5. Measure Impact: Gauge the impact of your brand messaging on the social issue you support. Are you making a meaningful difference, or is it just window dressing?

 

The role of brands in advocating for social issues cannot be underestimated. When done right, it can strengthen your brand’s connection with your audience and make a positive impact on society. However, the line between genuine advocacy and mere exploitation is thin, so tread carefully. Australian business owners have an opportunity to be catalysts for change while advancing their brand’s mission – a sweet spot that’s worth striving for in a world hungry for authenticity and meaningful action.

Coming into the final weeks of campaigning for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, Australians are going to be seeing a lot of corporate and larger organisations jump aboard the value-train as they advocate for their chosen position.

Will it make a difference to their profitability? Possibly!

Will it impact the future of Australians, no matter the outcome?! ABSOLUTELY.

Does your organisation or business advocate for social causes? Let us know!

The Power of Brand Messaging : Advocating for Social Causes