Brand activism: Why more campaigns focus on social good

How does social good fit into a marketing campaign? Brand activism has become a popular trend lately. How can a brand benefit from it?

We live in an era that everything can become political. Social media has been targeted by fake news, trolls and negative stories. How does a marketing deal with this sentiment? There have been many brands that decided to embrace their inner activism in 2017 in an attempt to raise their voices over trending matters.

Not all of them did it successfully, but we still need to acknowledge the growing trend of social good campaigns.

What do we mean by social good campaigns?

A social good campaign promotes a product by involving a social action, a bigger idea, or simply a reaction to a relevant topic. Whether it’s a response to a political decision or the support of a cause, many brands have decided to showcase their social responsibility through their campaigns.

Social good campaigns can be split into two categories:

  • the ones focusing on the cause with a wider goal of building awareness
  • the ones using a cause to promote their own messages

The first ones may not necessarily be tied to practical business goals, but they still aim to benefit from the momentum to build trust and awareness. It’s the goal of associating a company with a cause.

The second ones can also be inspired by a cause, using the timing to capitalize the conversation. However, in this case, there’s a big danger of a negative reaction. As consumers are becoming aware of the trend of social good campaigns, they also become more demanding.

How social good campaigns can benefit a brand

There are many reasons for a brand to create social good campaigns.

A simple one may derive from the organization seeking a company purpose. A company that focuses on philanthropy and sees beyond profit can become more attractive to future employees. It increases the motivation to work for a good cause and it enhances its positive branding.

Other reasons include:

  • Building trust: A brand that creates successful social good campaigns makes it easier to develop a relationship of trust. Consumers have more chances to support a campaign that supports a cause they believe in. This increases the chances for an improved credibility for the brand.
  • Increasing exposure: If a brand’s goal is to make an impact and reach a wider audience, then social good campaigns can bring them closer to their objectives. The focus on significant issues along with a marketing campaign can boost word of mouth, especially if the campaign contains an emotional element.
  • Associating the brand with a purpose: Branding goes beyond one marketing campaign. However, if a social good campaign is powerful, then it can help a brand gain an association with a message and a set of values that can bring further success. For example, TOMS shoes managed to build their brand around social impact and consumers have now linked the brand with social good.
  • Keeping up with the trends: Many brands strive for relevance. Any opportunity to be part of a trending topic can bring them closer to their goals. A breaking story or a growing social movement can make the perfect case for a new campaign.
  • Improving engagement: If a brand’s goal is to build engagement and a loyal audience, then a social good campaign can be ideal. Think of your target audience, what they believe in and which causes they’d be more likely to support and come up with a creative campaign. Don’t forget to ensure that the campaign is still part of your company values to make it more authentic.
  • Targeting millennials: If you want to reach younger demographics, then marketing campaigns with a sense of purpose can grab their attention. It has been observed that 70% of millennials can pay more for a product that makes an impact on issues they care about. This is one of the main reasons that more brands create social good campaigns, hoping to convince younger consumers to trust them.

Best examples of social good campaigns and brand activism in 2017

There were many campaigns focusing on social good and brand activism in 2017 and here are some of the best examples.

Patagonia ‘The President stole your land’

Patagonia has launched the campaign “The President stole your land” in an attempt to highlight the importance of protecting the public lands.

Their social posts lead to a landing page providing more details on the President’s recent announcement to reduce the amount of protected land in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. They are encouraging people to take action while presenting the groups who fight for the protection of public lands.


The clothing company also answers the question on the reason that they’ve launched this campaign by saying that they’ve been advocating the protection of public lands for 30 years. The call-to-action is clear and the campaign serves as a great example of how marketing and environmental awareness can go hand in hand. This way, the broader campaign becomes synonymous with the brand and consumers can feel connected to the company for a wider purpose.

New York Times ‘The truth is hard to find’

The New York Times has launched the campaign ‘The Truth is Hard to Find’ last year as a response to fake news and their impact. They’ve used a simple campaign to promote the importance of quality journalism and the focus on facts during a political turmoil.

The multi-platform campaign managed to reach a broad audience through TV, print, outdoor, social and email marketing. The TV ad has even aired during the Academy Awards while social advertising followers to make the campaign a big success.

The campaign increased both the awareness but also the subscriptions for the New York Times, proving that a brand or a publication can rely on political issues without newsjacking them.


Jigsaw ‘<3 Immigration’

Social purpose can be part of a marketing campaign, provided that it’s delivered in context with a brand’s message.

Jigsaw has created one of the most powerful campaigns of 2017 using trending topics to support their ad. The rise of hate crimes in the UK was the reason that the brand decided to highlight the importance of diversity.

The message of the campaign discussed how Jigsaw relies on materials across the world to create the final products, reminding everyone to be open and tolerant.

Bold ads have shown up on billboards at the tube, in The Times website, but also across social media and the idea was to build awareness and engagement while focusing on a recent yet important topic.

Airbnb ‘Until we all belong’

Airbnb wanted to support marriage equality in Australia and they’ve decided to launch an acceptance ring as part of their campaign.

The ring had a gap that represented the gap in marriage equality and the company encouraged people to wear it as a support to the campaign. The ring served as a symbol before the crucial vote for equality in Australia and Airbnb quickly became the most mentioned brand in Australia at that time.

More than 150,000 rings had been sold, while there were more than 2 million shares on the relevant articles across the Internet.

These led to a positive sentiment of 98% for the campaign, proving that a popular company can still be interested in social issues, provided that it discovers the best way to involve them in their marketing strategy.

The importance of authenticity and how brands can end up in public backlash

While brand activism has been on the rise, social good and purpose-driven campaigns do not automatically guarantee a successful result for a branded message.

Authenticity becomes crucial for a brand that deals with sensitive and timely topics and that’s why the message needs to be relatable.

It’s easy to win the audience with the right message, but it’s even easier to end up in a public backlash if you fail to make the right emotional connection.

The most popular example was Pepsi’s campaign in 2017 with Kendall Jenner that managed to unite the Internet against it, with Pepsi ultimately pulling the ad. What the audience didn’t like was the fact that the brand’s message didn’t seem authentic, blending the popular model with protesters in an oversimplification that probably happened in a bad time.

The reactions were immediately negative and the brand’s sentiment has been plummeting during these days. Although the brand saw an increase of mentions of 7300% between April 3rd and 4th, it managed to create one of the most controversial ads of 2017, turning into a case study on the importance of context in a brand’s campaign.


It is estimated that 33% of consumers are choosing to buy from brands that are doing social or environmental good.

Brand activism is not expected to disappear in 2018 and that’s why it makes a great opportunity for more companies to embrace the idea of social good. Purpose-driven marketing can bring a greater connection between the brand and the consumers, provided that the message is sincere and relatable.

It’s not just about jumping on the bandwagon of brand activism by following the news, there needs to be a bigger connection between the brand’s value and the message they want to create. Even if there’s no prior connection, it’s important to believe in the cause that you’re about to support in a way that more consumers will be convinced to support your brand.

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