Will emerging from Covid19 mark the next era of corporate responsibility?
When the world ground to a screeching halt 10 months ago, it allowed us all the time to pause, reflect and truly see the face of injustice and realise that we could do better. Drastic change to our daily lives paved the way for the resurgence of a value with already high importance in Western society - Universalism.
As we enter a new year and begin to see light at the end of the tunnel, the question is posed of what kind of world we want to emerge into. If returning the status quo means accepting social injustice, widening inequality and an accelerating climate crisis, this is a world most find unpalatable.
Of course we can all do our part, educate ourselves and others, interrogate our prejudices and demand more of governments. But in the age of the consumer, there is growing understanding that we have the power to insist that our much-loved brands use their resources & platforms for good. Since the pandemic rocked the world, the discussion has matured, the mood has shifted, and brands have an obligation to take a stance & be vocal. Will emerging from COVID19 mark the next era of corporate responsibility?
A brand well-known for it’s unapologetically bold stance is Ben & Jerry’s, which continues to set an example of brand activism with its trailblazing support of BLM: ‘There are moments in the course of history when it’s important to stand up and be counted.’ However, what separates success stories of brand activism to tone-deaf ‘woke washing’?
There are many examples of brands falling flat when trying to communicate progressive messaging. Crucially, these campaigns receive backlash due to not being carried out with the intention that the weight of the issue merits. If you are going to support a cause, it's all about how much of it is going to ring true given who you are as a brand historically, what you stand for and most importantly what you are doing, not just what you're saying.
A notable example of a brand with a very strong platform for progressive messaging is Nike. Known for supporting the inclusion of girls in sport and the fight against HIV/Aids, it has also been at the forefront of support for Black Lives Matter with the controversial Colin Kaepernick ad and often cited as the gold standard of what to aim for in terms of authentic D&I messaging. However, recent reports have emerged of it struggling internally with truly living these values throughout the organisation and staff concerns about diversity.
This is a clear call to arms to first hold a mirror up to your own organisation and be prepared to realise, acknowledge and take action to resolve the issues faced by minority employees before engaging in outward communications. Ensure whatever values you communicate to consumers are reflected throughout the fabric of the organisation – just as we are happier when we live by our values, brands are no different. In our global values study we found that 53% of people reported being happy when strongly agreeing that they lived by their values, compared to 13% who didn’t.
These issues are complex, yes. It may feel like to some that they are walking on a tightrope trying to communicate anything related to Diversity & Inclusion. However, acknowledging that no individual or organisation will be perfect and tackling the issue with humility will in itself convey authenticity – after all there is strength in showing vulnerability.
What brands need to do to make sure they don’t fall flat is think deeply about their values and the values of their audience. What do you truly stand for as an organisation? Make sure these values are woven through the fabric of the organisation and use them as the foundational core of messaging to form real human connection. Focus on what you want to make a tangible difference to that aligns with your long-term brand strategy, think deeply about it and action in a way that pays the issue the importance it deserves year-round, not just a flash in the pan during Pride month or Black history month. Slapping a rainbow flag, a #Metoo hashtag or a BLM sticker on your campaign and ignoring these communities for the rest of the year does not scream authenticity.
At One Minute To Midnight, we run values workshops with client stakeholders and people across the world to build the foundation of empathy for our research and create a deeper understanding of humans. Understanding and reflecting on these values internally helps carry and embed this human insight across the business, truly bringing the customer to the boardroom.
If you want to know more about our Values Game, or how we conduct our research please contact
Bye for now,
James - Research Manager at One Minute To Midnight