Diversity has gifted the world with things we didn’t even realize we needed such as the In My Feelings challenge and the new obsession over K-pop (and all of those Korean face masks, let’s be real). Now, it has brought us a viral Nike/Colin Kaepernick meme that everyone (yes, even Donald Trump Jr.) has weighed in on. Before this era of disruption, brands tended to stay mum and neutral regarding their views in order to avoid controversy. Today, brands are switching gears and voicing more concrete stances on global issues (such as diversity), as consumers ideals have changed. According to Sprout Social’s Championing Change in the Age of Social Media study, two-thirds of consumers believe that it’s critical for brands to take public stands on social and political issues.
Though a contentious topic, diversity is not a new point of conversation. In fact, since the 1970s, the advertising industry has been making continual efforts to increase the diversity of its workforce and advertisement portrayals. The division of race, sexual orientation, gender and background has been a fixture of conversation for a long time, and the marketing industry is beginning to implement more bold strategies to weigh in on social views. We are seeing marketing campaigns such as AirBnB’s #WeAccept and Procter & Gamble’s The Talk aligning with stronger messages for diversity. Brands are emphasizing inclusivity and taking more confident stands for what they believe in.
With that being said, marketers are also aware that one misstep can land their brand in hot water. So where is the balance between being compelling to your audience and being too controversial? What things should your brand take into account when producing new marketing campaigns?
Creating Opportunities to Take a Stand
With the competitive landscape ever-increasing, brands are slowly wading into controversial territory in order to make a point. Marketers are seizing every opportunity to produce relevant and impactful content in order to reach their audiences.
Take Nike for example, which just unveiled a new campaign with Colin Kaepernick (a former NFL player who kneeled during the National Anthem to speak out against racial injustices) as the central figure. The campaign focused on one core message: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Since its inception, Nike has been a fearless brand with a punching slogan. By aligning itself with a polarized figure such as Kaepernick, Nike is reinforcing its identity as a brand for people who are willing to “Just do it.” for whatever their passion is. This campaign aligns itself with Nike’s go-for-it attitude and loyal audience, who tend to lean more urban and progressive. Since its launch, Nike’s sales and stock have risen despite a backlash of criticism from a segment of its customers.
By taking a stand in their marketing efforts, brands are empathizing with consumers. As Mellonaid has discussed before, this display of authenticity appeals to consumers who increasingly support brands that act responsibly and stand up for issues that matter.
Balancing Compelling Storytelling with Controversy
Of course, as with everything, there are both advantages and disadvantages to a marketing strategy that involves controversy. Brands need to take into account public reaction when taking a controversial stand. With topics that have a clear divide of opinions, taking a stand on one side of the debate is risky as it will alienate a part of your audience. In Nike’s case, a number of its consumers boycotted the brand for affiliating with Kaepernick and posted videos of themselves destroying Nike products to social media. Unintended consequences may also have an effect on your business and the way that prospective consumers view your brand.
At the end of the day, brands must be mindful of the current social and political landscape before developing boundary-pushing campaigns. Be aware of what people are talking about and where your audience’s support lies. Your marketing campaign should align with your brand values and mission while resonating with your audience on an authentic level. When dealing with diverse content, it’s important to be sensitive to the plight of others and keep the door of communication open with your audience. Your brand should be able to take both critiques and praise and respond in an acceptable manner.
Marketing will continue to be affected as boundaries merge and the globe becomes more multicultural. A diverse world is in our future and diverse campaigns will be what touches people’s hearts and minds. Consumers are seeking to support brands that wield their position and influence in support of topics that are relevant to their lives—and diversity is one such topic.
We are seeing big brands break their silence on social issues because they know that bravery and conviction is compelling. By taking a stand, brands garner attention and differentiate themselves from other brands who stay silent.
As this marketing trend unfolds, we’d like to leave you with a few questions for thought:
- What opportunities can be executed to further align with a bold stance?
- Can prominent brands afford to stay silent as consumer demand for taking a stance increases?
- Can brands be challenged to take more action on social issues by doing more than just producing supportive campaigns?
As a marketing agency that values insight, we understand the importance of analyzing consumer behavior in order to craft meaningful campaigns. Staying true to your brand and ensuring that your marketing stance genuinely proposes a solution to the issues you stand up for is what will ignite brand advocacy.