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Brand Stance: Brand Purpose Beyond Woke-washing

In the wake of the escalating climate crisis and growing awareness on sociopolitical issues, audiences are actively seeking out brands who are putting purpose before profit.

Recent data suggests 87% of us will actively search for a brand that shares our values. With younger audiences this is even more important. As the balance of power shifts, we are increasingly demanding that brands support the issues we care about. 

Brand purpose sets out the company’s reason for existence beyond profit.

Doing Good is Good Business

Brand purpose is often thought of as the starting point when it comes to branding. Start with ‘why’ and the rest follows. Companies are increasingly opting to build their brand identity around the idea of doing good: whether that serves the individual, society, or the environment. The central mantra for this school of thought is that doing good is good business.

Enter the purpose-driven brand. These brands position their brand purpose at the very essence of what they do. From Tony’s Chocolonely and Ben & Jerry’s, to Patagonia and The Body Shop, they all claim purpose is the very reason they exist. Their stance on the world plays a vital role in their success. The Body Shop’s purpose – “we exist to fight for a fairer, more beautiful world” – runs through everything they do and is still relevant 50 years on.

 

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Image credit: Tony's Chocolonely
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Image credit: Tony's Chocolonely

80% of us feel that we are making a positive impact when we buy from a purpose-driven brand.

Virtue-signalling or Genuine Purpose?

Brands who are profit-driven, will often try to shoehorn purpose into their communications to help drive sales. It can be powerful. 80% of us feel that we are making a positive impact when we buy from a purpose-driven brand. We like to feel like we are doing good. 

This dynamic shifts marketing focus from product to emotion. We can see the seismic shift in ad land. Think of the wave of “we’re all in this together” emotive ads we saw in 2020. From McCain’s Here’s to Love ad, to ‘Build a Life’ by Uncommon for B&Q… These brands don’t have a desire for a better world at their core, but they’ll lead you to think so if it sells. 

Inauthentic brand messaging that jars with business is disingenuous and more damaging than staying neutral.

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Image credit: Pretty Little Thing
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Image credit: Pretty Little Thing

What is Woke-washing?

Brands who are profit-driven, will often try to shoehorn purpose into their communications to help drive sales.

But the modern consumer is smart enough to recognise when a brand jumps on to opportunistic marketing. Inauthentic brand messaging that jars with business is disingenuous and more damaging than staying neutral. Think fashion brands that churn out International Women’s Day t-shirts, yet don’t pay their female factory workers a fair wage. So-called ‘woke-washing’ is dangerous because it creates the appearance of stance without the substance of action. If you take a stand, run with it. Be uncompromising and consistent.

When your brand stance has depth, people are more likely to buy from you, stay loyal, become advocates, and defend the brand. It builds trust. This is especially true for younger generations. According to PR week, 60% of 18-34 years olds believe that brands need to do more in the fight against racism, for example. As time goes on, this is the generation who will hold buying power.

 

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Image credit: Nike

Silence is a Stance 

If your audience expects you to take a stand and you don’t, that is in effect, taking up a position. Brands who stayed silent during the Black Lives Matter social #BlackOut campaign were deafeningly quiet. Yet taking a stance isn’t without controversy. Gilette faced backlash online from its ‘Toxic masculinity’ ad. People burned Nikes across America due to their Colin Kaepernick ‘Believe in something’ ad. Yet, Nike knew that it would resonate with their main demographic who are largely young and liberal-minded. It subsequently earned Nike an estimated $6 billion. Proof that if you take a stand, run with it.

 

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Image credit: Gilette
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Image credit: BBC

Woke-washing could be accused of creating the illusion that we - as consumers - can make change happen.

A Statement of Identity

Whilst campaigns like this clearly have the potential to generate a huge amount of revenue, there’s no evidence that any have actually changed the world for the better. Woke-washing could be accused of creating the illusion that we – as consumers – can make change happen. In reality, buying running shoes from Nike does little to tackle the issue of racism head on. We continue to see brands take a stance and speak out on the recent war in Ukraine. Other than raising awareness of the war, what impact does this have?

As environmental, social and political issues garner more attention and column inches, we expect brands to take a stance that aligns with our own. We view a brand we associate with as a reflection of who we are. Brands are statements of identity.

At Fiasco we partner with businesses who are trying to bring about real and meaningful change in their category or sector. If you’d like to speak to us about a future project or collaboration, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line here.

Will personal endeavours

Thanks for reading!

Words By Nathalie

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