Causes and Capitalism: Social Activism in Marketing

On September 3, 2018 Nike named Colin Kaepernick the face of their 2018 ‘Just Do It’ Campaign to celebrate 30 years of the slogan. This announcement grabbed headlines and gave Nike a lot of attention. While some reacted negatively, burning their Nike products, many praised the company, and said they were grateful that they “were taking a stance,” buying up tons of Nike products and gift cards for future purchases. Nike is not the only brand to take advantage of social activism and the responses it brings within a consumer, but it has undoubtedly become definitive proof how much a money well timed social commentary is worth.

This trend, while new, isn’t exclusive to 2018. In January of 2017, Lyft used a well timed donation to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in an attempt to overcome Uber’s success and popularity. After Uber had seemingly undermined a taxi-strike at New York’s JFK airport, Logan Green (Lyft’s CEO) tweeted that the company was donating $1 Million. After this announcement, Lyft’s downloads surpassed Uber’s for the first time ever.

It is hard not to question the motives behind many brand’s decisions to “do good,” with Starbucks pledging to hire refugees, Levi Strauss calling for stricter gun control legislation, Yoplait taking a stance against “mom-shaming” and supporting public breast feeding, among many other examples. It has not been common place for brands to make vocal political statements in the past, and it is hard to view these decisions as genuine whilst living in a world filled with activism-filled social media. This has just become the latest marketing ploy to appeal to younger demographics, something desperately needed in 2018, as more and more businesses topple due to organizations that have more of an appeal to younger audiences. Amazon has prime, fast fashion is cheap, but at least Nike is politically aware and seems to have the mentality that these groups hope to capitalize on. Brands hope that by creating possibly controversial statements, they can catch the attention of the American public, get some free press and hopefully make money along the way.

While many agree with Colin Kaepernick’s message spreading knowledge about police brutality and the effect that it has on black communities across the country it cannot be ignored that Nike chose him as their new face for business reasons, rather than solely due to political ideology. While Nike did give him his platform back, after the NFL took away his previous platform, it can also be frustrating to know the real reasons they would consider a man like Kaepernick. Nike knew that using someone as controversial as him would not only bring more attention to the campaign, but would also manage to garner support from many people who have been waiting for someone to “take a stance.”

It’s difficult to truly get angry at businesses for deciding that social activism is the newest, best marketing strategy.  If people begin to identify a brand with vocally “supporting” ideologies they agree with, they will most likely decided to support that brand as well, thinking that they are upholding their personal beliefs in the process. All of these choices are made alongside a cost-benefit analysis, cheapening the fact that these businesses are using their media attention and public importance to share these ideas. Gone are the days of the anonymous donor, doing good for the benefit of the public. 2018 has brought the days of the do-gooder expecting praise for the good they have done.

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