Back to Basics POVs

Brands vs Activism

Written by Matthew Powers

For a brand entrenched in the old ways of working, how can they re-energize their consumer base in a disrupted marketplace? One way to do so is to tap into a current moment or issue to capture a connection.  

One of the recurring themes this year at Cannes is activism through advertising. In my work and throughout all the agencies, there’s an increase in client briefs centering around a human issue. There are many implications stemming from this union of brands and social justice, calling for marketers to use their platform as a source of good to promote underrepresented voices. My takeaway is to address these briefs, advertisers should find a common value between the brand and the organization in partnership and emphasize it in communication. 

This idea of a shared value between brand and organization was showcased brilliantly in a session with Alfonso Cuarón, “Defining Art + Activism”. Cuarón’s Oscar-winning film Roma painted a vivid picture of life in 1970’s era Roma, Mexico, focusing on the story of a domestic worker that mirrors the nanny Cuarón had as a child. For the film’s marketing campaign, they partnered with the National Domestic Workers Alliance in order to empower domestic workers rights in the U.S. and Mexico, similar to the characters in the film. Using testimonials, PSAs and public screenings for workers and lawmakers, they were able to spark a wave of activism for domestic workers rights and gender equality in Mexico. Because of the ‘Roma Effect’, Mexico’s president even acknowledged and passed laws granting domestic workers social security.

Cuarón shed light on a personal family memory and used that message to advocate for issues he cares about, supporting women like the nanny who raised him. By using your brand as a platform for those who do not have one, consumers will respond to the authenticity. The most important thing I learned was even when the campaign is done, you need to continue the conversation. 

“It’s not an alliance for one project, it’s a commitment to an organization.”

- Alfonso Cuarón

Some industry experts are saying cause marketing isn’t working for people anymore, and consumers can see through projects that aren’t genuine. The heroic ideal is to take corporate media dollars and give them to an issue that matters. The problem is, if everyone is doing it inauthentically, we’re now actually borrowing equity of social causes and organizations and using them to only further our brands. Without empathetic collaboration, marketers would actually be taking from these causes. In that trade off between brand and organization, the call is to make sure we give back as much as we are borrowing.