Brands & Activism: Risks and Rewards Explored

Brands Taking a Stand: The Risks and Rewards of Social Activism

In an era where information travels faster than ever and consumers demand authenticity, brands no longer remain silent observers. They are increasingly taking stances on social issues, from climate change to racial justice. But as brands wade into the waters of social activism, there are both potential rewards and risks to consider.

Why Brands Take a Stand:

  • Consumer Expectation: A study by Cone Communications found that 87% of consumers would purchase a product based on the company’s advocacy on an issue they care about.
  • Moral Responsibility: Many companies believe they have a moral duty to take a stance, especially if their industry impacts the issue in question.
  • Employee Satisfaction: A brand’s stance on social issues can positively influence employee morale and recruitment.

Rewards of Social Activism:

  • Loyal Customer Base: Brands that authentically engage in social activism can forge deeper connections with their audience, leading to increased loyalty.
  • Positive PR: Genuine involvement can generate positive media coverage, bringing brand awareness.
  • Financial Gains: Cone’s study also showed that 76% of consumers would decline to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.

Risks of Social Activism:

  • Backlash: Not everyone will agree with a brand’s stance. Backlash can come in the form of boycotts, negative press, or social media outrage.
  • Accusations of Inauthenticity: If activism appears as a mere marketing ploy, it can damage the brand’s reputation.
  • Alienating Core Demographics: A brand might inadvertently alienate a segment of its consumer base by taking a stance that opposes their beliefs.

Strategizing for Authentic Engagement:

For brands considering social activism, here’s how to minimize risks:

  • Align with Core Values: Before taking a stance, brands must ensure the cause aligns with their core values and mission.
  • Engage Authentically: This isn’t about jumping on a trend. Genuine engagement means continuous effort, not just a one-time campaign.
  • Open Dialogue: Brands should be prepared for conversations and feedback. Listening and responding to both praise and criticism is crucial.

Case Study: Nike and Colin Kaepernick

Nike’s decision to feature Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player known for kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice, in their ad campaign was bold. The immediate aftermath saw a mix of burning shoes and soaring sales. The campaign polarized consumers but cemented Nike’s stance on racial justice, and it paid off with a significant rise in their stock value and sales.


Brands taking a stand is no longer the exception but increasingly the norm. However, it requires more than just good intentions. Authenticity, alignment with core values, and open dialogue are essential for navigating the intricate path of social activism in today’s market. The risks are real, but the rewards – both morally and financially – can be substantial for brands that get it right.