From the Super Bowl to Social Media, is Activism the Latest Marketing Trend?

Written on 07 February, 2017 by Trish OLoughlin
Categories Marketing

Earlier this week, Americans took turns cheering and chiding as the annual Super Bowl championship game played out. However, it wasn’t the final scores that had audiences talking; rather, it was the whirlwind of social activism that laced the marketing campaigns of the game’s sponsors.

This year, the cavalcade of creative showcases aired during the Super Bowl tapped into some of the biggest controversial issues currently riding America’s political climate.

Take, for instance, Airbnb’s ingenious ad spruiking the message: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong”. Accompanied by the hashtag #weaccept, Airbnb stated that the campaign was crafted in direct response to Donald Trump’s recently proposed immigration bans.

Or how about the relatively unknown construction company 84 Lumber, which strongly critiqued Trump’s intention to erect a wall separating Mexico and the US? The emotionally-charged two-part ad follows the tumultuous journey of a young Mexican woman and her daughter as they trek through the desert to seek solace across the border, only to be met by a wall blocking their entry. At the very end of the ad, the pair find a wooden door which enables their access – the final scene shows a construction worker driving off, the tray of his truck full of tools and timber offcuts. The simple message, “The will to succeed is always welcome here” graces the screen before signing off with the 84 Lumber logo.

The ad was so successful that the company’s website actually crashed due to the soaring volume of users logging on post-game.

Other brands played the humour card, with Kia enlisting the comedic talents of Melissa McCarthy to channel the issue of climate change before spouting the brand’s eco-friendly products. Meanwhile, rival car manufacturer Audi explored the gender pay gap, positioning a young heroine at its campaign’s narrative and smoothly oozing the line: “Audi of America is committed to equal pay and equal work”.

Consumers are increasingly interested in a brand’s values

In a world battling with the turmoil of Trump’s inauguration and Brexit’s shock to the system, society is increasingly taking refuge in perhaps the one glimmering shred of hope left: activism. We are seeing protest marches unfold across the globe in abundance; citizens taking stances on social media platforms; and evidently, brands capitalising on the newfound rush of political activism. Yes, the current state of the world is exponentially shifting public attitude and rethreading our social fabric, and businesses are certainly sitting up and paying attention.

Just look at UK coffee label Kenco, which has reeled in customers thanks to its proceeds funnel focusing on breaking gang patterns in Honduras and instead, training young men to become coffee farmers. Meanwhile, Starbucks delighted customers recently when the company’s CEO penned an open letter stating that the global corporation would hire 10,000 refugees.

There is a great demand for lines to be drawn in the political sand these days, and this doesn’t just come down to the beliefs and values of our acquaintances, our friends, or even the celebrities we follow on social media. Instead, we now apply it to the faceless multinational conglomerates that surround us and impact our purchasing decisions.

So, what happens when a glorified company does something that conflicts with our values?

Ride-sharing app Uber has risen to fame in recent years, but the company suffered a major blow last weekend when it lost around 200,000 users in one single hit. The trigger? People garnered the impression that Uber was endorsing Donald Trump’s controversial ‘Muslim ban’. And, as the digital world operates at an instantaneous pace, the hashtag #DeleteUber materialised almost immediately, quickly propelling its way across the social media circuit and encouraging Uber users to delete their accounts in favour of a company that shared their social and political values.

Clearly, the delicate ground we are currently treading upon harnesses an enormous degree of power over the way brands represent themselves.

Marketing strategies are continually being remoulded to match society’s mood

Once upon a time, sex was the money-maker in marketing. This was a traditional marketer’s go-to, but with the rise of equal rights, feminism and political correctness, sex is no longer viewed as the gripping marketing ploy it once was. In fact, last year saw Ultra Tune’s highly sexualised series of ads featuring a pair of catsuit-clad women behind the wheel harshly criticised by consumers.

Instead, people are loving thought-provoking marketing campaigns that respond to the big issues we are currently facing. The vast numbers of citizens who have bristled their spines in retaliation to the global political landscape indicates this is an area that evokes strong emotional appeal, and what better way to generate attention than by harnessing something consumers feel passionately about?

One thing’s for sure: the world’s recent display of social activism is a shining beacon for the direction many brands are driving their marketing strategies in. If the highly palpable results are anything to go by, the latest trend is a sure-fire way to leverage consumers’ attention and refurbish a brand’s persona.

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