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The Right Way to Market Activism

Activism can be a tricky thing to advertise. If you go too small, no one will be impacted by your message. If you go too big, critics may say that your message is unrealistic. When you go too detailed, people can pick your plan apart. When you are too general, your message doesn’t seem sincere. Because there are companies out there that create empty activist campaigns and green-washing promotions, our customers are more skeptical than ever. But in an age where younger buyers prioritize a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility and cause almost as much as product price, marketing activism can be crucial.

That means if you want to take on a more public approach to your Corporate Social Responsibility, you need to understand what practices for marketing activism your audience appreciates, and what bad habits will damage your brand rep.

Credit: Absolut

Do connect your cause to your brand

A cause not related to your brand values can fall flat – no matter how well-meaning a cause is. If a shoe company continuously promotes the importance of eating organic, audiences will pick up on the mismatch and will question their expertise on the matter.

Understanding and addressing your values as a company is the best way to uncover your platform. This platform will reinforce your pre-built trust as an expert in the industry. Connecting your cause to your brand in a meaningful way will directly affect how far-reaching your message. If your audience appreciated your brand values, they will appreciate the connected movement.

For example – as a leading spirits company, Absolut vodka is no stranger to taboo subjects. The 2020 Valentine’s Day campaign reinforces that brand voice as they tackle the topic of sexual consent in their marketing with the #SexResponsibly campaign. Because consuming alcohol and the importance of sexual consent are connected, this campaign is well-matched with the Absolut brand. By choosing a connected movement, Absolut didn’t have to sacrifice their upfront and poignant brand voice to speak on an important issue.

Download our checklist of 30+ ways to promote content here.

Don’t use real-life crises as a marketing strategy to sell products

Selling more products should not be the underlying goal of activism. By piggy-backing on occurring crises with fear-mongering and insincerity, you are effectively damaging the trust of your audience.

For example, an air purifier company tried to jump early into the Coronavirus scare and tell people they can rid their air of the virus with their product. After scientists rejected this claim as inaccurate and under-tested, the company faced serious backlash. It will take time and effort for that company to rebuild that consumer trust.

Credit: Patagonia Instagram

 Do rally behind the leaders in your company and community

The key to running a genuine and sincere activist campaign is to promote the people at the front lines making real change. Patagonia is a pioneer of effective activism campaigns, as enacting social change is the root of their company. Most recently, Patagonia publicly backed a grass-roots movement to stop an oil company from building a new oil field on Australia’s coast. Instead of building their movement, they supported and promoted the voice of the Patagonia ambassador who pioneered the #FightForTheBight movement.

Not only is this movement right up the ally of Patagonia’s expertise in sustainable adventure, but they have Patagonia ambassadors at the forefront of the cause. Why would they create new content when their supporters can generate the most genuine message?

Now, we are not all Patagonia. Most of us have to take this idea and tweak it to fit a smaller scale and smaller community. But, that doesn’t mean we can fuse this content into our messaging. If you have an established cause and one of your employees goes above-and-beyond to support it, create content around their perspective, and experiences fighting for the cause. This can be pictures, interviews, or even just a quote. Any amount of personal perspective can humanize and add context and meaning to your message.

Don’t advertise the cause without humanizing the message  

If you, your team, or your supporters don’t have any personal connection to the cause, it will be much harder to create sincere and meaningful content. Further, if no one in your community can speak to the chosen cause, you may not have a cause that directly resonates with your audience.   

Even if your heart is in the right place if you don’t have a personal connection to a cause it can take more time, energy, and resources to create high-quality content. Imagine a shoe company starting a campaign around animal rights. None of their existing branded content has been promoting supporters of that topic, so all images, copy, and plans need to be created from scratch. 

Credit: BSR.ORG

Do back your message up with action  

Create a goal for your impact. If your current plan doesn’t have an objective to help the cause, re-evaluate what you hope to achieve through your campaign. With all the companies that are striving to seem ‘woke’, your audience has developed a nose for sniffing out empty promises of green-washing and thinly-veiled marketing ploys. The way to combat this suspicion and silence critics is by backing up campaigns with action, data, concrete changes, and the voices of the people striving to make a difference on your team.   

For example, a coalition of tech companies banded together to support a common cause – in both public awareness and direct action. These tech companies realized they could combat human trafficking by creating innovative technological solutions together. This direct action and clear explanation of their goals, implementation process, and current wins leave the reader feeling confident that real action is being taken, and maximizes the trust in and support behind the involved companies.   

Don’t use jargon and confusing explanations to avoid making changes  

Faking activism is the best way to lose the trust of your audience. Activism isn’t beneficial until you’ve put time, resources, money, and research into a cause.  

For example, fast fashion giants have recently received very public backlash on the discrepancies and inaccuracies of their ‘sustainable’ clothing lines.

In reaction to the environmental impact of fast fashion, apparel giants have taken to creating ‘green clothing lines’ with the promise that these pieces were more sustainable than their regular lines. Thanks to investigative journalism, people uncovered and shared how misleading the details of these green clothing lines were – to an astounding extent. For example, a tag on a piece of clothing said ‘made from recycled materials.’ Upon some digging, the details were that the only recycled materials were in the tag itself – not the piece of clothing. This kind of shady greenwashing and dishonest framing will not make you friends with your customers, and will seriously hurt your company in the long run.  


If you are honest and passionate about the changes you want to make in your cause, you can create amazing things. Or, even better, you can inspire your audience to do amazing things. If you are interested in creating an honest and productive activist marketing campaign, reach out to our team! 


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