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Social Activism Becomes a Thing for Brands, Thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge

Dr. Martens, Rookie Magazine latest to add hashtag campaigns

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Social activism reached a tipping point this summer with the ALS Association’s unstoppable Ice Bucket Challenge, which to date has raised nearly $100 million while soaking millions more.

In the latest brand-activist mashup, Dr. Martens and Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie Magazine are advancing a teen-focused native advertising and social media campaign spotlighting six advocates whose causes range from gender equality to female empowerment, which they began last year.

Starting Sept. 16, Dr. Martens and the publisher will update their #StandForSomething effort by promoting the activists’ progress via native ads. The campaign will run on Rookie’s site as well as across Say Media’s 13 other properties, including xoJane and its extended network of more than 500 partner portals.

Dr. Martens stands for individuality and self-expression,” said Sara LaHaie, U.S. brand marketing and PR manager. “It is really the individuals who wear our boots and shoes that bring the brand to life, and we are giving them a platform to share what they stand for.”

#standforsomething | Teen activists take a stand in this
Rookie/Say/Dr. Martens campaign

Social media has become what click-to-give banners used to be, with brands increasingly using these online platforms to raise awareness of causes they support. “We’re seeing a lot of commercial brands take this approach,” noted Jennifer Catto, Say Media’s vp, global solutions. “They get their own platform to speak to their audience of consumers, and they have the ability to affect social change in the way editors do.”

Marketers were all too eager to take on the Ice Bucket Challenge—and with flourishes intended to make their brands stand out. For example, KFC announced in its viral video that it would donate $1,000 to the cause—plus an additional $100 for anyone who completed the task using a KFC bucket. “It’s just a great way to leverage something that has taken off in a huge way,” a KFC rep said.

But these efforts must be handled with extreme care, noted BIA/Kelsey senior analyst Abid Chaudhry. Artificially attaching a brand to causes or trending stories can be perceived as tone deaf or even result in a massive PR debacle, such as when Entenmann’s hijacked the murder suspect Casey Anthony #notguilty hashtag to talk about its treats.

That makes KFC’s call to use its iconic buckets questionable, as it has nothing to do with ALS, Gartner research director Julie Hopkins pointed out. But the fast-food chain claims to have received a “hugely positive” response and almost 115,000 video views.

Hopkins also cited Samsung’s use of the Ice Bucket Challenge to showcase its Galaxy S5’s waterproof capabilities as potentially off-putting: “It’s about putting something forward so a target group doesn’t feel like they’re really being manipulated. There’s a risk in going too far.”

Then again, Samsung’s stunt encouraged many users to upload personal YouTube videos of their phones’ liquid-resistant qualities. “Hey, it worked for them. We’re talking about it,” BIA/Kelsey’s Chaudhry said.

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