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Brand activism: The positives and pitfalls of taking a stance

Meaningful brand activism is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a must-have.

The Year That Shall Not Be Named set this in stone as some brands were celebrated for making a difference while others floundered.

One of the most pivotal events was the tragic death of George Floyd, a cataclysmic event that prompted weeks of protests and civil unrest across the United States.

It started a long overdue conversation about police brutality and racial injustice around the world, including in Australia.

It sparked discussions around dinner tables, on the floor of parliament, and in office lunchrooms.

2020 marked the end of staying silent. No comment is now seen to be as good as complicity.

Organisations are expected to not only have a considered response to socio-economic, political and environmental issues, but to also work to solve them.

Taking a stance, when done well, can be hugely beneficial for a brand’s reputation.

Think about a brand like Nike which has long been associated with sweatshops and child labour. Its reputation has had a remarkable turnaround in recent times due to its strong stance against racial injustice.

Closer to home, Qantas has been going hard on encouraging Australians to get vaccinated. Its recent campaign depicting Australians getting vaccinated to travel abroad went viral and attracted considerable media attention.

While Qantas is set to benefit from the end of COVID-19 restrictions and border closures, its pro-vaccine campaign is also generating goodwill among Australians who are desperate to travel.

Don’t be trigger-happy

Remember the black squares everyone posted for #blackouttuesday?

The point of the campaign was to create space for meaningful conversations on social media to further the Black Lives Matter movement.

Instead, brands and consumers alike flooded the newsfeed with black squares, completely missing the point.

Social media is your organisation’s mouthpiece – what you post can have long-lasting effects on your reputation and jumping the gun can have negative consequences.  

Publicly responding to issues and events is important, but it needs to be done strategically, thoughtfully, and most of all authentically.

Take a well-considered stance

Good corporate citizens didn’t become so overnight.

A great deal of thought, time and resources go into creating and implementing a corporate social responsibility strategy.

Corporate social responsibility is not as simple as changing your brand’s Instagram profile picture to a rainbow flag during Pride Month.

Authenticity is key and if your stance on an issue does not align with your values, it will quickly be picked apart.

If you want to endorse gender equality but your board is made up of 80 per cent men, can you really say you are an ally?

Can you raise awareness about improving mental health outcomes while routinely asking your employees to work overtime?

Probably not.

Going back to Qantas, it just makes sense the airliner is campaigning for Australians to get vaccinated. 

Nike’s fight to end racial injustice did not start when George Floyd was murdered in 2020. Its 2018 campaign made headlines when it featured former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick was the figurehead for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against African Americans.


If you are genuinely interested in affecting change through your organisation, take the time to create a corporate social responsibility strategy and make sure it aligns with your organisation’s values.

2020 solidified the expectation that organisations need to make a real difference and be held accountable for their actions.

Communicating about your organisation’s efforts to make the world a better place is important, but it is much more important to get it right.

We can help

Cannings Purple’s corporate communications team puts you at the centre of the frame, getting your message out and cutting through the noise. We develop social licence. We change minds. We raise profiles. And in a crisis we have your back.

Contact us to see how we can help you.

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