Big Business Hijacking Social Activism – Customers Take Back Control


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With more social unrest spread across the world than ever before, and in a time of discontent and dissatisfaction, it is no wonder that social activism is rife. Take for example the women’s march on Washington earlier this year, which will go down in history as one of the largest protests ever seen in the US; or perhaps the anti TTIP/CETA trade deals protest in Germany last year; and finally the Standing Rock protest on social media. These attempts at taking back control are of course admirable, however, the social messages behind these movements is also of great interest to advertisers. In an attempt to stay topical, relevant and trendy, larger companies are now hijacking these movements and employing them as key elements within advertising campaigns.

There is no doubt as to why big business is beginning to turn to social activism as a means of publicity and advertising; aligning yourself with such admirable causes is a sure fire way to inspire trust within consumers. However, customers and consumers are beginning to see through this act of profiteering from grassroots movements dedicated to change. In fact, consumers are finding out exactly how much power they have when it comes to how advertisers present their brands to the world, and activist consumer groups are using social media as a powerful tool of naming and shaming socially irresponsible companies. Due to the ease with which you can set up websites with a number of providers, and the creation of social media campaigns with high impact and international sway, the power of activism is now stronger than ever before. Activism has become more accessible to the customer and easier to get involved in largely due to the fact that it is simple to project your voice in the digital world.

Image by Pexels
Image by Pexels

Customers reject big businesses harnessing SA for advertising

In recent news, a Pepsi TV ad featuring Kendall Jenner caused uproar. It vaguely centered on an activist march – location, reason and other precise details remain vague – but the underlying message was that Jenner is greeted with a smile as she passes a can of Pepsi to a row of armed policemen during a protest. There was of course a very vocal reaction to this amongst both Pepsi customers and the general public; the ad got pulled within a matter of days. This is the perfect example of a big business intending to use activism to appeal to millennial customers but failing to do so with any honor or integrity.

SA in the hands of the customers

Uber has been through its ups and downs. For a company that has dramatically improved public transportation in a wide number of cities, it sure has been making headlines for a long time now, and all for the wrong reasons; there are reported issues of invasions of privacy, violence, sexual misconduct and pay inequality. A recent protest took place at JFK Airport in New York, directly after Trump issued a travel ban on certain nationalities entering the US. While most taxi companies were striking because of this, Uber issued an announcement stating that they would lift all surge pricing during this hour, and the company was therefore deemed to be profiting from the strike. Uber customers quickly took to their podium of social networks and a hashtag titled #DeleteUber started to trend worldwide. This is the perfect instance of social activism being taken into the hands of the customers/consumers – without whom, the strike may never have had such an instantaneous impact.

Image by Pexels
Image by Pexels

Businesses instilling trust in customers and employees

Going forward, bigger companies are being held to higher standards by customer/consumer activists worldwide, and a lot of these businesses are choosing to deal with this by joining activist movements instead. A large number of protests against businesses are not only carried out by the customers, but also by the employees, so by having an ethical cause to work for together, brings the workforce closer and redirects the attention. There is after all, a lot to be said for corporations that encourage social movements within the company. Co-creation methods, a process which can be carried out by customers and companies alike, can improve long-term communication and can be used effectively in the workplace to keep customers and employees satisfied.

Endri Hasanaj
Financial Economy Blog
Endri is interested in digital marketing, particularly in CRM via brand acquisition. Being a trilingual helps him doing researches around Multicultural Marketing.


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