“Between saying and doing there is the sea,” says a well-known proverb. This quote can be applied to today’s brands as they are called to cross this sea and take their Corporate Social Responsibility strategy to a new level by developing brand activism strategies that mark the transition from storytelling to storydoing.

What is brand activism?

Kotler defines brand activism as “the clear desire by the company to take responsibility in the social sphere and to participate in the achievement of the common good.” It is all about expressing clear, specific, visible actions and what the brand’s purpose is, or the reason for its existence. The purpose that goes beyond simple profit, from which the corporate culture derives.

Through brand activism, brands are called upon to actively get involved in one or more causes – be it political, economic or social – through communication campaigns, ad hoc projects and targeted investments.

Today companies operate in an increasingly open and complex environment and the number of stakeholders they need to establish a dialogue with is constantly growing. For this reason, a strong brand must have an active and participating role.

As Paolo Iabichino, founder of the Civic Brands Observatory with Ipsos Italia and author of the preface to Kotler’s latest book, explained in a recent interview: “The great misunderstanding of latest times was that a good story was enough to manifest a brand’s ‘do-good’ intentions (…). The pandemic has uncovered the cap of rhetoric. The market has begun to reward the brands that went beyond the rhetoric and made concrete actions. This is pure brand activism.”

Today’s consumers pay special attention to how brands act and behave. Evidently, it has become essential to define actions that are consistent with the brand identity and which become an intrinsic element of communication, helping to consolidate the brand reputation.

Examples of brand activism: from words to deeds, a new tool for communicating brand identity

From Stella Artois – with its “Buy A Lady A Drink” project developed in collaboration with Water.org to provide drinking water to developing countries – to outdoor apparel brands that have been at the forefront of environmental protection for years, there are now examples of brand activism which perfectly combine concrete support for causes of great social relevance with the inspiring principles and philosophy behind their brand identity.

Brand activism: handle with care

If brand activism undoubtedly represents an essential element in developing public relations strategies today, it is important to move with caution when deciding which field to choose to actively participate in the discussion on often complex and controversial issues. In this case, it will be especially important to act before communicating. Once the cause has been identified by the brand, the selected supporting actions should be put into action. These actions then can be shared with the stakeholders and audiences to avoid accusations of social opportunism and greenwashing, which is now often at the center of furious controversy.

This blog post originally appeared in Italian in the blog series of Sound PR, PRGN’s member agency in Milan, Italy.

Alessandra Malvermi
Alessandra Malvermi
Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Sound Public Relations
A public relations, brand management, digital strategies, social media, content marketing and crisis communications expert, Alessandra is strongly passionate about innovation and new trends and has a lively talent for international relations. Besides being Vice President of Global Women in PR for Italy, she has been a jury member of the IMC European Awards and Chair of the PRGN Membership Committee. Among her interests are skiing, trekking, music, arts, books and more.

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