The Rise of Brand Activism

It used to be, that for brands, getting involved with politics was a no-no. Even having an opinion on some social matter was frowned upon, or needed countless meetings to get authorisation before the brand commented on current affairs.

But then the election of 2016 happened, Brexit happened, and society as a whole was just like what is going on here? We were exposed to some blistering rhetoric on the campaign trail that devalued the contributions women, immigrants and people of colour have made to the elevation of the American Dream. We consumed scandal with a side of false news like the new meat and potatoes staple at the supper table.

As a result, consumers started to look elsewhere for answers and brands, it seems, started to not only find their voice but ACTUALLY use it. In the last few months alone at WGSN we’ve seen brands create their most provocative work, change company policy and stand up for everyone (not just some). At WGSN Insight where we track brands, brand strategy, marketing and social media, we’ve seen a clear, sizeable shift from just having a brand purpose to actually acting on it. No time for shy retiring types thank you.

The idea that a brand could become as symbolic in its meaning to people became a positively arresting thought for me. When I look at some of the work being done by brands, more brands are taking their stance (a la Dove’s socially electrifying Real Beauty message of inclusivity) and moving from declarations to actions.


From actively influencing the public’s view of humanity with a message of fierce inclusivity in R/GA’s brilliant Love Has No Labels campaign to Tecate taking immigration head-on in a positively disruptive Walls campaign.

We also saw Target’s progressive stance on transgender rights with its introduction of inclusive bathroom stalls. More and more brands are stepping up to the plate, rising in their symbolic meaning as a nation’s flag.


As we face this new frontier, are we seeing the rise of brand activism as the people’s champion in a post-truth world?

Let us know what you think below:


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  • Steffi X. Marty

    Great article with thought-provoking observations. In extraordinary times it seems that taking a stance against the unsettling is almost a necessity. Curious how the more conservative brands will act…

    • Carlene Thomas Bailey

      So glad you liked the article, thanks for the comment.

    • Carlene

      thanks for the comment- this is definitely something set to become more of a talking point

  • natacao

    I see it a bit different. Brands are with politics since a long time, just in diversed level. Sometimes it’s a good idea but sometimes it just doesn’t match to the brand. Another question is how does it work with a fashion because I can see more and more politics there and also with music or movies. As always we… so also companies, react on what is happening around and it’s natural. That’s how the icons grow and stay in our minds.

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