How brands are making human connections by transforming their stance on today’s big issues.

When Blue Planet II aired at the end of 2017, the catastrophic impact that plastic is having on our oceans was catapulted into the public consciousness. We watched David Attenborough’s distress at the scale of the damage and it felt like as a nation we had begun to rethink that plastic bottle in our hand.

Since then, Iceland, Coca Cola and ASOS are just some of the brands that have made big, transformational environmental pledges. And in doing so, they are not just saving the planet but also consciously improving their brand credentials.

From division and protest around Brexit and Trump, to issues such as women’s rights and the environment, we live in an era in which activism is on the rise. And in turn, consumers across the board (but millennials in particular) are more and more keen to engage with brands who are also seen to be activists.

A recent study suggests that 9 out of 10 millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause. People now look to, and demand even, that brands voice their opinion and stand up for issues.

From Dove’s Real Beauty campaign which took a stand on the body-obsessed media and fashion industries, to Bodyform’s Blood Normal campaign tackling the taboo around periods, brands are seeing the positive outcomes of campaigning for issues that are important to their customers. 

Customers now expect brands to be bigger than what their products offer us, they have to get involved in the conversation, have real beliefs and make pledges that they can follow through with.

Brands have to be cautious what issues they get behind though – as Uber learned through the backlash it faced after it broke a New York taxi strike against Trump’s travel ban by servicing JFK airport and dropping surge pricing. This was seen not only as underhand, but also as support for the legislation and led to a global campaign to #deleteuber.

It’s no surprise then, that following the shocking story we saw play out on Blue Planet, Iceland has pledged to go plastic free on its own brand products by 2023, Coca Cola has pledged to increase the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles to 50%, and ASOS has committed to increasing the amount of post-consumer recycled materials it uses to make its clothes.

Brand activism is proving that it can make human connections with customers by taking a stand on the big issues of the day. And with environmental concerns very much in the cultural zeitgeist, brands are facing a choice: either stay relevant by transforming their environmental credentials, or risk being left behind.

At SHARP we are working on ways we can reduce our own plastic use, and are eagerly awaiting to see how businesses and brands across the board transform too.

Vickie Cattan

Vickie Cattan

Strategy & New Business Manager