From activist brands to activist consumers

By Sandra Pina, Partner and General Director of Quiero.

“Beyond the product, make them feel good for good” is the panel I chaired at #SBParis19, which analyzed the role of consumers when they become activists and demand changes in brands in order to drive social, economic, environmental or political change.

Alongside Lisa Hogg, EMEA Marketing Director at TOMS, Patricia Oliva, Global Vice President of Marketing for Evian, and Lisa Pike, Vice President of Environmental Activism for Patagonia, we analyzed what benefits companies obtain when they meet consumer demands and manufacture products that have a positive impact. All three have extensive experience in customer relations and the impact that brands have on society. I highlight four ideas from this conversation.

-From brand activism to influential consumer. The conversation questioned brands’ commitment to consumers. It is no longer enough to say that you are committed to social responsibility or brand activism if you cannot help consumers make a difference by contributing to change. When striving to generate an impact, companies should not take on the role of “actor, hero or promoter of change” and relegate their potential audience to mere “beneficiaries or observers”. This would be a mistake.

Lisa Pike reflected on how to choose a cause and show public commitment. In the case of Patagonia, a benchmark company in environmental activism, she analyzed what was missing from the public narrative and where they could contribute through activism, as they do with caring for nature and the environment. “Educating consumers is fine, but the most important thing is getting them involved so they join your cause,” she said.

-Be brave and believe in disruption. What would become of a company if it did not dare to innovate? What if this innovation were disruptive? These are ‘moonshots’: radical ideas that generate systemic changes in an increasingly uncertain environment, but which also generate great opportunities. “If we are not brave enough, we end up promoting the status quo and staying as we are,” said Patricia Oliva, Evian’s Global Vice President of Marketing.

Meanwhile, Lisa Pike put forward the example of the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, who recently stated: “I don’t want to sell any more clothes or make any more money, because that would mean continuing to destroy the planet. What I want, among other things, is to boost regenerative agriculture through the Regenerative Organic Alliance and help look after the Earth”.

 

– How can we move across to corporate activism? It is difficult for a company to convert to activism if it has not previously been committed to sustainable development. While being far from the best option, Lisa Pike nevertheless reminded us that we can only move towards corporate activism if we are sure that what we are looking to mobilize is necessary and society demands it. If this is the case, we need to find this movement and amplify its impact.

“Storytelling always has a place if it is accompanied by storydoing, which is why it is increasingly important to spread the message. We must be bold but vulnerable at the same time, always open to dialogue and criticism, you can’t be superficial,” said Lisa Hogg, EMEA Marketing Director at TOMS, who outlined another key to corporate activism: “Being authentic. And this can only be achieved when consumers make sense of their relationship with the brand. In the case of TOMS, for each pair of shoes we sell, we give another pair to people who do not have any. You could say that this is our purpose as a brand, generating impact through the sale of shoes”.

-Radicalism. Radicalism may be seen as a marginal phenomenon or a mirror of social demands, but how is this radicalism spreading to society through brand activism? Are brands ready to be hated or simply loved?

“If brands take sides for a cause, they have to be aware that not everyone will like them, they have to be prepared for criticism and not be afraid of the path they have chosen,” said Lisa Pike.

“As a company you have to face challenges and fight against problems, or else you may end up becoming irrelevant. To do this, you must get employees involved in this long-distance race,” said Lisa Hogg.

“Speed is key, if you slow down as a company all innovation is lost, which is why it is important to have the conviction to promote change and activism,” concluded Patricia Oliva.

Four ideas from three inspiring women who invite us to reflect on how to accelerate change.

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