The way forward: Consistency and commitment

Great activism requires solid foundations. Yes, it’s crucial to act now, but it’s equally as important to have a clear plan. As you sketch out your own roadmap for action, WARC’s Lucy Aitken outlines some emerging trends to be aware of and explores how brands can keep on the front foot amidst what has become routine uncertainty.

Lucy Aitken Managing Editor, Case Studies, WARC

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director of UN Women and Chair of the Unstereotype Alliance, offered some powerful advice during LIONS Live at the end of June: “You have to repurpose your skills to serve a greater good than profit,” she said. Speaking about brands that have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by using their infrastructure to produce PPE, she pointed out: “Violence and racism are also pandemics and brands need to help.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka’s advice resonates because the post-purpose world is up against some serious challenges; we’ve moved on from making an FMCG brand stand out on the supermarket shelf by splashing a worthy cause over some biodegradable packaging. So many brands have now been there, done that, that the opportunities to cut through the clutter by aligning with a cause are severely limited. Instead, there’s an opportunity to model ‘good’ behaviour through transparency, consistency and commitment. Encouragingly, these are fast becoming the core requirements of business. And business is changing fast. Patterns of consumerism are evolving. Pivoting is constant.

The growth of boycotting

An appetite for action and accountability now characterises a world confronting Covid-19 and systemic racism. Boycotting, once regarded as a fringe activity, is becoming an everyday occurrence: 50% of consumers have boycotted a product that didn’t align with their values, according to Ford and Harris Insights & Analytics. And it’s not just consumers boycotting products: the list of advertisers diverting cash away from Facebook due to its lax attitude towards hate speech and misinformation is growing. It includes global heavyweights such as Diageo, Unilever and Ford.

The emergence of the belief-driven buyer

In the post-purpose world, values are the common currency. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the 32,200 people surveyed for the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer identify as belief-driven buyers. That means they will choose/ switch/ avoid/ boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. Belief-driven buyers think that brands are a powerful force for change that can solve societal problems. The brands that lean into that role have the most to gain. The ones that don’t are jeopardising their long-term health.

Pre-empting change

Businesses are in an excellent position to help people through these tempestuous times. Among the Edelman respondents, 74% felt that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for governments to impose it – and particularly governments that are navigating their countries through the twin terrors of Covid-19 and recession.

This can feed into a new style of pro-activism, where brands pre-empt regulatory change. Earlier this year, at Davos, Microsoft promised to be carbon negative by 2030. When people see huge corporations making those kinds of commitments, they become more open to the idea of change themselves.

And for any transformation cynics, consider how rapidly our own behaviours have changed within just a few months: fewer flights, more working from home, less commuting. Those three actions alone are contributing in a positive way to reducing climate change; many environmental activists are petitioning for them to be permanent. Think about what your brand can do to serve that greater good mentioned by Mlambo-Ngcuka. And then, to quote a brand that’s shown how to align with the right side of history, just do it.