To avoid “Woke Washing”, brands should instead focus on a transformative brand image
As brands increasingly engage in social action campaigns and leverage their influence to be ‘goal driven’, now is the time to ask some big questions: is this a viable strategy? , and how skeptical should consumers be about such a strategy?brand activismâ? These last few weeks, alone, Ben & Jerry’s threw a new flavor of ice cream called ‘Change is Brewing’ to support black-owned businesses and raise awareness of Popular Response Law, a bill that seeks to establish a new public safety agency in the United States
Elsewhere in the market, Lego declared he would promote inclusive play and fight harmful gender stereotypes with his toys. Mars food renamed Uncle Ben’s Rice at Ben’s Original in response to criticism of racial cartoons in its marketing. All the while, companies have a checkered history when it comes to tackling societal issues, selfish ‘ticking’ business practices under the guise of social responsibility to move responsibility to consumers make ethical choices, like reusable coffee mugs.
More recently, “woke up washingâHas seen brands promote social issues without taking meaningful action. To consider fast fashion brands that promote International Women’s Day while profiting from the exploitation of female workers, or high fashion houses that sell expensive t-shirts with feminist messages while constantly maintaining male-dominated paintings and C-Suites .
Change from the inside
Given the above, how can brands legitimately assume the responsibility of supporting or promoting societal transformation? Our research introduces the idea of ââ’transformative branding’, which involves companies working with customers, communities and even competitors to co-create brands that lead both in the marketplace and on social fronts. Unlimited in its applicability, transformative branding can be achieved by for-profit organizations, non-profit organizations, and social enterprises. The common factor is balancing business and societal goals to create change from the market system.
Social-oriented marketing concepts and campaigns have proliferated over the past 50 years, but the search for real solutions has performed less well, which leaves us wondering how companies can act to truly contribute to society and show how a transformative branding can help brands take on this responsibility.
Transformative branding works through two main market-shaping elements: leadership and collaborative coupling. These allow companies to partner with stakeholders to change their business landscape. First, leadership involves building a vision for transformation. It forces leaders to think flexibly and creatively, to work on long-term horizons, and to stay tuned in to changing ideologies. It basically involves re-imagining what branding can do – beyond making money.
Second, collaborative coupling consists of implementing this vision through the different dimensions of the brand. The key to this is to engage stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, suppliers, governments, communities and competitors. When a brand and its stakeholders collectively build on the transformation goal, it signals engagement, distributes expertise and resources, and establishes legitimacy. Leadership and collaborative coupling work together to change the business environment. Our research shows that this has ripple effects, creating opportunities for transforming economic, regulatory, socio-cultural and political environments.
Transformative branding in practice
Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard is a good example of transformative branding at work, especially in his candid admission that the notion of a fully sustainable business is âimpossibleâ. Instead, Patagonia has reframed its priorities around responsibility, with Chouinard reimagining the brand as a solution to environmental degradation. This vision is at the heart of the brand’s iconic ‘demarketing’ campaign – the company telling consumers: “Do not buy this jacket– which aims to shift the ideology of consumption from buying to repairing.
More recently, Patagonia âBuy less, demand more“campaign and its”Worn WearâVenture for second-hand clothing introduced the notion of circular economy into the company’s strategy to promote a culture of reuse rather than always buying new.
At the same time, Dutch chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely demonstrates collaborative coupling in its campaign clean up production and supply chain practices in the chocolate manufacturing industry and eliminate illegal child labor and modern slavery. Of the society “open chain platformâHelps all industry players, including competitors, foster fair and transparent supply chains and secure a vital income for cocoa farmers. The brand is actively eroding its own potential competitive advantage in the process.
But the transformative brand image is complex and dynamic, and authenticity is paramount. For example, earlier this year, Tony has been removed of the monitoring organization Chocolate without slaveThe list of ethical producers on its partnership with a major chocolate producer is being sued for allegedly using slave labor. The Amsterdam-based company responded by saying it was important to educate and inspire business partners and competitors to adopt ethical principles and practices.
The complex and often slow process of negotiating what it means to be ethical is part of a transformative branding. It adapts to the different goals and values ââof many stakeholders. And while transformative branding offers a path to a more sustainable and fairer future, we must continue to take a critical look at brands that claim to be a force for good, challenge them and empower them when necessary.
Amanda Spry is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at RMIT University. Bernardo Figueiredo is Associate Professor of Marketing at RMIT University. Jessica vredenburg is Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Auckland University of Technology. Joya Kemper is Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Auckland. Lauren Gurrieri is a senior lecturer in marketing at. RMIT University. (This article was originally published by The Conversation.)