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In the latest Ad Age trend report, “Brands As Citizens,” contributing writer Michael Applebaum takes an in-depth look at the phenomenon of how brand activism is evolving in the post-Trump, post-COVID, post-BLM era. Originally published on April 30. This article has been updated.

Brand activism is more prevalent than ever. Research suggests that consumers are more likely to reward companies and brands that stand up for the issues they believe in. Brands like Nike, UPS and Toyota that are recognized for their high commitment to purpose have grown at more than twice the rate of others, according to a 2020 Kantar report.

But brands are also getting swept up in a torrent of events beyond their control. Ever since the start of the pandemic and last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, and continuing through the January 6 Capitol Hill riots and backlash over restrictive new voting laws, it seems that corporate America is increasingly expected to respond to every major cultural or political controversy—and often with a point of view that is in line with today’s younger, diverse and more progressive electorate.

“The events of the past year have made it inescapably clear that brands and companies have a responsibility to step up as both a force of good for society and a force of growth for business,” says Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble. “People are looking at what’s behind the brand: What are its values and beliefs, and what are the specific actions they’re taking to make the world a better place.”

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