HeartPress Blog


How Do Companies Undertake Brand Activism?

Brand activism involves using your business – your brand – to advocate for a cause close to your heart, and the hearts of your loyal customers. Companies showcase their support for their causes in many different ways including public announcements, lobbying, or marketing campaigns surrounding the issue, as well as more standardized corporate giving strategies like volunteering, monetary donations, and fundraisers.

The following companies display brand activism by going out on limbs to speak openly about the causes they support. Often, these efforts serve to highlight the businesses in the public eye, bringing in new customers and drawing more attention to the cause. Sometimes, though, the endeavours fall short.

(Did you miss our first Brand Activism post:  What is Brand Activism?)

Patagonia Keeps on Promoting the Planet

Patagonia is likely the most-mentioned company when it comes to brand activism and solid CSR, but deservedly so. The company has long promoted the conservation of resources and their actions support their advocacy. Not only do they encourage caring for the planet, and went so far as to donate all their Black Friday sales to environmental organizations in 2016, but they actively encourage people to buy fewer clothes, and bring their Patagonia wares back for repairs and recycling. Most of their products are made from recycled materials, and fair trade.

The Willary Unobtrusively Supports Women

Not all brand activism requires extensive donations, a huge marketing budget, or even regular speeches, and not all those joining the charge are international household names. Last year, the owner of the women’s clothing line The Willary expressed her support for the women’s marches happening around North America by blogging about how to stay warm during the January event.

Dove Touts ‘Real Beauty’

Though some recent campaigns from Unilever-owned Dove have led to public criticism and the general concept of a beauty brand pushing for natural beauty may seem counterintuitive, it can’t be denied Dove has really stuck to their guns – for years, their advertisements have stressed the importance “real beauty”, encouraging women to love the bodies they have rather than strive for the “perfect” figure or face belonging to someone else.

Lyft Stands Against the Trump Ban

In a fairly straightforward example of brand activism, the rideshare company Lyft speak out in an open letter to users following the same presidential proclamations mentioned above. In the letter, the company expressed their disappointment and their support for immigrant and refugee families. They also pledged a 1 million dollar donation to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nike Supports Diversity

In yet another brand-driven move to fight the policies of the POTUS, the CEO of Nike released a public letter sharing his concerns over the immigration and refugee ban, and voicing his support for residents of his country who weren’t born American. The letter concludes: “Nike stands together against bigotry and any form of discrimination…We are at our best when we recognize the value of our diverse community.”

A New Era of Super Bowl Ads

The sponsored ads that ran between plays during the 2017 Super Bowl weren’t your usual blend of jocks swilling beer and scantily clad women sipping soda. While the same companies sponsored the ads – the likes of Budweiser, Google, and Coca-Cola, many used their highly viewed platform to share political messages with the now-iconic 2017 theme of discrimination. One example: Coca-Cola shared an ad aired in a previous year that showed a blend of people singing a song in many languages. 

Ben and Jerry’s ‘N’ Ice Cream

Ahead of the social good game, Ben and Jerry’s put a social mission in place in 1988. The company has come out in support of many causes over the years including LGBT rights, fair trade, climate change prevention, and most recently, the Black Lives Matter movement. Their website outlines the reasons they have joined the charge to end “systemic and institutionalized racism” and refuse to be silent on the matter.

When Brand Activism Backfires

Starbucks’ ‘Race Together’ Campaign Misses the Starting Gun

Despite the best of intentions, when Starbucks started this campaign in 2015 it fell short. Their goal was to encourage discussion around racial issues, and by writing “Race Together” on their iconic cups, or applying stickers with the same phrase they strove to cultivate a place for this discussion. Coming from a company seen as having a largely white and wealthy clientele, the campaign was widely viewed as ineffective or worse.

But Starbucks didn’t let one poorly received campaign silence them. Last year when President Trump was getting vitriolic about immigration, the chain vowed to hire 10,000 refugees in their shops. A #boycottStarbucks hashtag warred with #buyStarbucks, but the campaign was generally well-received, and at the very least kept the coffee shop trending on Twitter.

McDonald’s Pay with Lovin’ Campaign

Another example of a brand activism attempt that could have been better thought out was the McDonald’s 2015 Pay with Lovin’ campaign. The fast food chain gave randomly selected patrons the opportunity to pay for their meal with an act of kindness, but the unique approach got considerable backlash, with customers and cashiers alike feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed by the tasks dolled out, and existing issues coming to light around minimum wage and unionization for employees.

These two examples reinforce the importance of putting thought into your brand activism before you serve it up. While there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with your stance, if your campaign flies in the face of your values or highlights a real or perceived shortcoming in your business, that won’t do you or your cause any good.


Instapage, TechCrunch, Medium

Is Brand Activism right for your company?

Contact us at HeartPress PR for a free consult.

You might also enjoy...

We use cookies to improve your experience. By using our website you consent to our cookies, terms, and privacy policy.
Learn more