It’s hard to get around the fact that more brands are choosing to take a stand lately, on issues ranging from the environment to gun violence to income inequality. Whether it’s Nike’s “Sacrifice Everything” ads with Colin Kaepernick or Gillette’s “The Best A Man Can Be” ad, brands are dipping their toes into the waters of social consciousness and seeing if their customers will follow.

And there’s good reason for it. At the risk of sounding cynical, it’s not like the Nike corporation ran this ad with the genuine hope of changing the world. They’re in the business of selling shoes, and in examining a few trends they realized that one of the most effective ways to reach their young target market was through Corporate Social Responsibility, or at least the appearance of Corporate Social Responsibility.

According to Cone Communications:

  • 92% of consumers say they have a more positive image of a company when the company supports a social or environmental issue.
  • Gen Z sees their wallets as the primary way to get engaged in CSR efforts, with nine-in-10 (90%) saying they would buy a product with a social or environmental benefit.

So clearly, there is some benefit to “staying woke” when marketing. But is there benefit to your company?

Stay Woke

Let’s start with the concept of “woke marketing” to begin with. In essence, it’s nothing new.

Essentially, what Coke did with its now-famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” jingle has been repackaged for a new era of social consciousness that came about with rise of social networking and 24/7 news. Me Too. Men’s Rights. Black Lives Matter. Make America Great Again. Everyone has a cause now, and marketers are starting to notice that. Reaching those consumers where their beliefs live can be an incredibly effective way to reach them.

It’s not just the traditionally “left-leaning” causes that are seeing brands marketing to them based on their beliefs.

Blue Lives Matter, created somewhat in response to the Black Lives Matter movement (we realize its more complicated than that – for our purposes, it’s safe to say it’s not a left-leaning movement) was courted by the New York Jets for a partnership (Blue Lives Matter declined). And one need only browse Instagram for a few hours to find numerous brands catering to the pro-Second Amendment set.

But by and large, this is a marketing trend designed to capture the more liberal-leaning millennial generation and those who sympathize with their views. Some of it is incredibly effective, like Heineken’s Worlds Apart ad, which invited people of polar opposite viewpoints to discuss their differences over a beer. Some of it is not, like Pepsi’s “Kendall Jenner cures systemic racism with sugar water” ad. So what was the difference between these two?

Woke or Wack?

With the Heineken ad, there’s a natural connection between the product and the message. People do tend to hash out their differences over beer (with varying degrees of shouting, depending on the volume of beer consumed), and with this spot Heineken made their beer the official beer of mending fences. Plus, neither side is depicted as “the bad guy,” allowing for the spot to be effective for people whose causes lie on either side of a debate.

Pepsi, on the other hand, was immediately slammed for their ad and forced to pull it. Released at a time of incredible tension between citizens and police, the ad’s intended audience, those who aligned themselves with the protestors, found it both tone deaf and a transparent attempt to cash in. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., clapped back at the ad Tweeting “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” It was enough backlash that Pepsi pulled the ad and issued an apology, stating, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”

Fortunately, Pepsi is not alone in fumbling its socially conscious messaging. Whether it was Ram using a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech over footage of trucks, or 84 Lumber failing to establish any sensible connection between the border wall and their product, plenty of companies have whiffed on earning some of that sweet CSR credibility.

So, what about you?

The question, remains, is this new era of Corporate Social Responsibility right for your business?

After all, it’s not just the big corporations getting woke. Even small businesses can attach their message to a movement, whether it’s something as simple as sponsoring a local event for a cause or transitioning to an employee-owned business model.

But when it comes to your marketing message, it’s a tricky proposition.

Ad Age recently published a piece outlining things you should consider before engaging in “wokevertising.” The most important thing to ask is why you’re doing it – if you feel it’s a movement or a cause that resonates with your target audience, it could be a great way to strengthen their attachment to your brand. If you’re doing it because it’s a trend, just don’t. When this kind of marketing is effective, it’s because of the authenticity behind it. If there’s even a hint that your brand is merely doing this to jump on the bandwagon, it could blow up in your face.

But if you’re doing it for the right reasons, and you are authentic, staying woke might just wake up a few new customers.

Are you a business owner looking to step-up your marketing?

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