It’s no secret that people in today’s society are beginning to speak up and get loud about issues that are important to them more frequently. Thanks to technology and platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., it’s much easier for the everyday citizen to “protest” without having to…well, protest.

Nowadays, people can speak out—and be heard—almost immediately after observing something going on in the news that they care about by just quickly typing a few words and clicking send.

With activism rising in modern culture and becoming a big player in every side of politics, brands have taken notice and are implementing it into their marketing strategies.

What is Brand Activism?

Brand activism, also known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is when a business or company seeks to have an impact on a social, environmental, economic, or political issue. Companies can act on these issues for a multitude of reasons. It can align with their core values or vision for their company, to gain publicity, to reach a new target audience, etc. It all depends on what the issue is, who the company is, and why they want to act.

Brands can also engage in activism in different ways. They can include it in their mission statement, make a commercial about the matter, support a public official, donate, volunteer, make a public statement, etc. The company gets to decide if they are going to implement their activism strategies in their PR or Advertising campaigns (or both!). To learn more about the differences between the two, check out this article written by a Zion & Zion team member.

Why is Brand Activism Good?

A brand with a definite purpose not only helps society but gives customers assurance that they know you’re a brand that they can trust. When you and your customers believe in the same purpose, it is easier for them to believe in you. Think about when you meet a new person, and you find out you have all the same beliefs as they do; it becomes so much easier to become their friend. That’s what you want your consumers to do with you; think of you as a friend.

Research Shows That:

83% of Americans are more likely to purchase a product with a social or environmental benefit.

72% of Americans will tell their friends about brands that conduct social responsibility.

Even when the views don’t align with their own, 61% of consumers (and 75% of millennials) believe it is crucial for a company to express their opinions on issues.

If your target audience is millennials, then you are in luck! Millennials and younger groups show a preference for brands that stand for something. 91% of millennials are willing to switch brands to one that is associated with a cause. Millennials want companies that tell them how they are striving to improve the world, and 93% of them feel better about companies upon learning those efforts.

Be Authentic

The main rule when practicing brand activism is saying what you do and doing what you say. If you make a big public campaign about how much good you are going to do in the world and you have a show-stopping commercial dedicated to representing that, but when it comes time to do those good deeds, and you decide not to follow-through. Prepare yourself for some backlash because words aren’t enough for today’s consumers; they want action. 47% of engaged customers are less likely or not at all likely to purchase from companies whose business procedures are contradictory with their CSR promises.

It is also essential to be mindful of what is going on in the world and relate to it while still staying true to what you value as a company. Don’t jeopardize your corporate ethics to make a stand and be seen. Doing this might deter your current customers as well as make you come off as unauthentic to potential customers.

On the other hand, you don’t want to pick something irrelevant to the modern public just because you are passionate about it. Yes, you are advocating for something, but people won’t notice or care.

Brands Who Succeeded with Brand Activism


The first brand that comes to mind when thinking of brand activism is Patagonia. Patagonia’s business model centers around environmentalism. When you go to Patagonia’s website, they have an entire section dedicated to informing their customers about their cause.

Patagonia Navigation | Pitching a Purpose

Patagonia’s mission statement is centered around them saving the world from extinction through business, investments, products, and public outreach. Not only are they unafraid to voice how they feel about climate and environmental crises, but they are also big on taking action.

When Yvon Chouinard first founded Patagonia, he knew he wanted a company that also had a cause. In 1986, he committed 1% of sales or 10% of profits, whichever was more significant, to environmental activism. This cause continued last fall when Patagonia’s CEO, Rose Marcario, upheld Yvon’s vision for his company. Rose dedicated Patagonia’s $10 million in tax cuts to environmental charities. Relevance is the key to reception, and by taking a relevant issue in society and speaking out on it, Patagonia drew a lot of attention to their brand and cause. Patagonia has proven time and time again when you take a firm stance on an issue as a company; you can bring in new customers and attract talent. In 2016, Patagonia gave away all of its Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations and in turn gained 24,000 new customers that same day. In the last seven years, Patagonia’s corporate benefit impact rating has increased by 41%.


Heineken recently held a campaign called “Worlds Apart” which was a social experiment turned TV commercial. Heineken had three pairs of strangers work together on several DIY tasks while simultaneously learning about one another. After completing the assignments and gaining mutual respect for their partner, Heineken revealed that each pair has opposing views on hot-button topics. The duo is then asked if they wanted to stay and talk about their views over a Heineken or part ways. All pairs decided to talk it over, and respectfully hear the other side.

This campaign worked because Heineken didn’t market themselves as the solution to a cultural divide. They instead showcased that if we listen and get to know each other, we can talk things out while still being kind and courteous. With social media, it is hard to always keep in mind that those who have very different views than you can also have similarities. Heineken didn’t brand themselves as choosing a side; they instead gave a way for people to unite in the middle.

Heineken also doesn’t see this campaign as a one and done. They ensure the campaign is part of a long-term commitment to make the world a better place. Heineken’s UK Head of Marketing, Cindy Tervoort says, “We see it as our duty to try and change the world. All our brands interact with millions of people every day, and we have the scale to reach a lot of people and to positively influence their opinions.”


We can’t talk about brand activism without discussing Nike’s controversial Colin Kaepernick ad. This campaign caused an uproar in social media, practically overnight. Some people were infuriated over it, and some people celebrated it, but the campaign succeeded, nonetheless. It succeeded because it fell in line with Nike’s time-honored message of “Just do it,” which empowers people to do whatever they dream of doing.

The campaign caused a $6 billion increase in overall value for Nike. About two-thirds of Nike’s core customers are under the age of 35, and they tend to side with Kaepernick. As I mentioned before, millennials want a company that has values that align with their own. Nike knows its customer base and what they want, which is why they created this effective campaign.

Key Takeaways

  1. Be authentic in what you are advocating. Don’t take a stance if you aren’t going to act on it.
  2. There are many ways to have brand activism; it can be a portion of sales, core values of the company, donations, advertising, etc. It is up to you and your brand on how you want to advocate for your cause.
  3. Make sure whatever you choose to represent, that it aligns with your brand.
  4. Be careful. Brand activism can help you succeed, but it can also backfire. Do your research intensively and make sure your campaign is something you are proud to stand behind above all.
  5. Be consistent. Don’t support one issue and then a few months later support the opposing view. Treat brand activism as a portion of your brand personality.