In recent years, brands that take a stand have created some of the most memorable marketing. If anyone asked you to recall 2018’s biggest campaign, you’d be talking about Nike’s Colin Kaepernick work in an instant. You may not have liked the work (I hate State Street’s Fearless Girl) or even think the marketers believe what they are pitching (again, hard to buy into State Street’s message when you look at how they paid women and people of color), but it’s clear that the marketing that resonates with consumers today is all about standing for something.
My inbox is filled with pitches for studies that say the same thing. Millennials and Gen Z want to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak. Of course, it’s not just younger consumers who care—and it’d be nice to see more studies that look at older generations once in a while, as they certainly have buying power worth paying attention to.
One recent study from PR firm MWWPR found that the number of people who care about what a brand does as much as they do about its products—the firm coined the term “Corpsumer” last fall to represent these people—is up to 35 percent of the U.S. population. Consumers seem more and more concerned about what brands are doing, where they’re spending their marketing dollars, how they treat their employees, where their products are sourced, if they’re contributing to political campaigns and, in general, the impact they have on the world.
2019 will find more brands trying to figure out how to stand for something, what they should stand for and how to do so authentically while maintaining growth (which most brands have struggled with, according to the ANA). It won’t be easy for marketers to navigate, but it’s worth the risk. Just look at what the Kaepernick work did for Nike: The controversial ad initially made the company’s stock dip, but it ultimately boosted sales 31 percent, according to data from Edison Trends.
Nike’s support of Kaepernick is just one example of a brand making a statement that resonated with consumers. It follows a growing trend of major brands like Patagonia, REI, North Face (the companies sued the White House over public land in 2017; Patagonia’s CEO just announced the company will put the $10 million it has saved, under Trump’s tax cuts, toward combatting climate change) and others finding ways to get consumers’ attention by asserting brand values. Iconic denim brand Levi’s spent the last quarter getting its fans to vote during the midterms while also working behind the scenes on gun control. And last month, the shoe company Tom’s donated $5 million to gun control.
Brands wouldn’t be using precious marketing dollars or donating money if it didn’t help the bottom line. Sure, that might be a cynical take, but it’s an honest one. Think about it: Why would ThirdLove, an up-and-coming lingerie brand challenging Victoria’s Secret, take out a full-page ad in The New York Times calling out Victoria’s Secret’s CMO for controversial comments he made if it didn’t ultimately help ThirdLove? Not only do people now know they have another option for lingerie that supports their values, but ThirdLove inserts itself into a conversation that’s incredibly relevant.
If I were a marketer working today, I would be looking for ways that my brand could make a statement on an issue consumers care about that is authentic to that brand. I would think critically about the impact of my brand on the world. And if I had the chance to do something good, I would do it. Because these days, doing what’s right is good for your brand.