There are over 100 entries on the Wikipedia list of social movements. They include veganism, #metoo, men’s rights, organics, indigenous rights, black lives matter, pro-choice, tea-party and eco-feminism. There’s a prominent note on the page saying, “this list is incomplete, you can help by expanding it.”
But Wikipedia will struggle to catch up with reality. Social movements, so much easier to start, co-ordinate and grow in the age of social media, are flourishing. The new wave of movements are being led and fed by the millennials who have been dubbed the “crusader generation,” a whopping 94% of whom want to use their skills to benefit a cause, and 77% have already gotten involved in charity or change-making.
As the Wikipedia list makes clear, this isn’t soft stuff. Movements are born when injustice, destruction, threat or sheer frustration at missed opportunity grows so great that people can’t help but act on it. And rarely do movements come with a business case, cost-benefit analysis or risk matrix. Which is why marketing needs to become movement making. Mechanistic, manipulative and of no value to consumers or society, the plummeting value of traditional advertising has been obvious for decades.
Nike, ever sensitive to the nuances of youth culture, knew this very well when they chose to enter the hot, fraught and passionate movement of which Colin Kaepernick is now literally the poster boy. I have no doubt Nike both anticipated, and banked on, the controversy. Because unlike 99.9% of brand marketing, joining a movement makes your message unavoidable and unforgettable. As the U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 recently discovered, 60% of 16- to 24-year-olds claim to notice ads more if they deal with important issues.
There is clear distinction between this movement making and brand purpose – although the most successful businesses tend to have both. Brand purpose is about your business. Whereas movement making is about your consumer: what she cares about and how you’re going to partner with her to change the world.
Your brand has three routes to making that happen:
1. Give Voice
Brands have recognition, media-spend and creative clout. These are powerful gifts when put in service of a movement, and with a massive pay-back in consumer relevance. What does good look like?
- Sky – as a broadcaster, Sky uses its powerful voice with audiences to serve the movement against single use plastic.
- Jigsaw – the clothing brand added their voice to the movement supporting and valuing immigration and refugees.
2. Make Product
The most impactful way to join a movement is through your core products or services. This is truly putting sustainability at the heart of your brand:
- Barbie – with new iconic, diverse and body positive dolls, Barbie changed from enemy into a leader of the women’s movement.
- Adidas – have stepped into the heart of the anti-pollution movement with their ocean plastic shoe.
3. Incite Action
Obviously, you need to live what you preach, and your consumers want to do so too. You can rouse your consumers to make a difference with behavioral nudges, calls to action and services to make change easier:
- REI – the #OptOutside movement changed consumer behavior, with millions choosing time outdoors rather than Black Friday shopping – and REI provides a searchable database and guideline to find an outdoors space near you.
- Levi’s – using multiple touch-points (including care tags) to help change consumer behavior towards saving water and the circular economy.
Is it safe for a brand to start or serve a movement? Nope. Making a movement is daring, important and the ultimate POV. If you’re smart, then the risks are manageable, but there will always be someone who disagrees with you, which is rather the point.
It’s also possible to do this very badly. If you’re merely producing a communications campaign, or fail to practice what you preach, then the costs are significant. Audi attempted to align with the women’s empowerment movement via a SuperBowl advert. But their poor performance on gender equality and embarrassingly low numbers of senior women in management were, rightly, ridiculed.
Remember, your consumers truly believe in their movements. So, you need to ask – do you? The way to start this transition from marketing to movement making is to ask what you actually stand for as a business. Every company has values, founding missions and cultural truths and these are the seeds of the movements you should serve. And if you don’t stand for anything then you’ll likely become embroiled in a movement nevertheless, one campaigning against you.
Because as the well-known saying has it: if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Solitaire Townsend, Co-Founder of Futerra. Author of The Happy Hero – How To Change Your Life By Changing The World
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education