Brand activism

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Brand activism is the type of activism in which business plays a leading role in the processes of social change. Applying brand activism, businesses show concern not for the profits but for the communities they serve, and their economic, social, and environmental problems, which allows businesses to establish value-based relationships with the customers and prospects. Kotler and Sarkar defined the phenomenon as an attempt by firms to solve the global problems its future customers and employees care about. Brand activism is expressed through the vision, values, goals, communication, and behavior of the businesses and brands towards the communities they serve.[1]


Brand activism was identified and developed as a marketing and business management concept by Philip Kotler and Christian Sarkar in 2018. Brand activism evolves from cause-related marketing and CSR, and socially responsible business practices. The complete list of six major areas for corporate social-responsibility activities is presented in the book In Corporate Social Responsibility: Doing the Most Good for Your Company and Your Cause (2005), by Nancy Lee and Philip Kotler[2]

Unlike corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and corporate governance politics which are marketing-driven and corporate-driven, brand activism is a society-driven concept. It is corporate philanthropy, not based on the business model, while CSR is business self-regulation, integrated into a business model, which builds the company image as part of the corporate ethic strategy.[3]

Brand activism is a society-driven concept, which evolves from cause-related marketing and CSR, and socially responsible business practices.


The expectations of businesses to form conversations and policy debates on jobs, economy, regulations, corruption, global warming, discrimination, education, healthcare, and immigration issues are conditioned by society's lack of trust in governments and NGOs. The Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that people fear about the future and don't trust in social institutions.[4] The Havas Media research shows, that "55% of consumers believe companies have a more important role than governments today in creating a better future".[5]

The political, economic, environmental and socio-cultural preconditions for the Brand activism phenomenon, the principles on which the brand activism is based, together with brand activism frameworks and strategies are developed in the book Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action by Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler[1] According to the authors "Brand Activism consists of business efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, and/or environmental reform or stasis with the desire to promote or impede improvements in society."[6]

Marketing application of brand activism[edit]

From a marketing history perspective, the brands have been marketed on their performance characteristics. Each brand represents specific product attributes and characteristics, that differentiate it from competitors and position it in a distinctive place in the customer mind. Marketing refers to this strategy as positioning. Accordingly the authors, positioning is no longer enough to build a competitive brand strategy. Millennials and Generation Z are sensitive to global environmental, political, economic and social problems and expect brands to show concern for the communities they serve.[7]

Brand activism considers company social policies as a new modus of competitive advantage that differs from the product-price offering and the brand's emotional benefits offering.[8] Brand activism as a marketing practice relies on the notion that to the customer purchasing a product is more than just a transaction, it is an extension of their views, beliefs, and lifestyles.[9] Based on surveys, it matters to consumers that the brands they buy from give back to society. Part of the marketing policy of companies like Nike, Puma, Starbucks, Facebook, REI, and Microsoft is to take a stand against social injustices.[10]

An example of brand activism is Nike’s position as an activist for racial equality. In 2018, they provoked a strong public reaction with a commercial featuring American football player Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the US national anthem in NFL games to protest police shootings at unarmed black men - a gesture that drew the ire of President Donald Trump.[11][12] As a result of taking the activist position, Nike receives public support, and Nike's stock rose 7.2 percent and the company reported a 10 percent increase in revenue.[13]

Related concepts[edit]

Brand activism, together with CSR and consumer activism, is a part of the large branch of economic activism, which involves using the economic power of government, consumers, and businesses for social and economic change.[14] The categories in economic activism differ in the sides that participate, in the goals they set and the ways in which they achieve them.

While consumer activism seeks to change the way in which goods or services are produced in order to make the production process safer, more ethical, and more environmentally friendly, brand activism aims to solve global social problems such as corruption, global warming, discrimination, education, and healthcare issues. Consumer activism carries out on behalf of consumers for consumer protection or by consumers themselves. Brand activism is on behalf of businesses for the global society's interest.

Unlike the CSR, brand activism is not corporate self-regulation[15] but corporate philanthropy. CSR is an internal organizational policy, brand activism is the mission of the company.


  • The Body Shop fight for its ethical values and beliefs and with its natural beauty products shaped ethical consumerism.[16] Its founder and CEO, Anita Roddick, not only wants to make skincare products but also fight for animal rights, civil rights, fair trade, and environmental protection.
  • Global Sports Brand PUMA stated their stand for social equality with #REFORM, a platform that gives activists from the worlds of sports, music and entertainment support in championing causes and encourages conversations around universal equality and criminal justice reform.[17]
  • Patagonia outdoor clothing and gear company placed the environment at the heart of its business. They encourage the community to reduce, reuse, and recycle[18] the resources with communication as Don't Buy This Jacket campaign[19] and initiatives such as Wear Worn[20] and Zero Waste Program[21][22]
  • Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) outdoor clothing and gear, as a cooperative company is based on cooperative activism and a common love for nature.[23]
  • After Colin Kaepernick's campaign, Nike has become a company with a proven track record of social and political activism.[24][25]
  • Pernod Ricard bases its entire business model and operations around four pillars with eight key commitments: Nurturing Terroir (biodiversity & regenerative agriculture), Valuing People (equality and future leadership & shared knowledge and learning), Circular Making (packaging and waste & water balance and carbon-footprint), Responsible Hosting (alcohol misuse & responsible party).[26] These company principles as part of the 2030 Sustainability & Responsibility roadmap are aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[27]


Contrary to studies that point to the consumer demand to engage brands in solving social problems, there are studies that find that the majority of consumers are indifferent to social brand engagement. According to the Comscore report, the U.S. the UK, and India Millennials and Gen Z consumers are ambivalent to brands taking political or social stances.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b BRAND ACTIVISM: FROM PURPOSE TO ACTION by Christian Sarkar & Philip Kotler Copyright © October 2018 Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler ISBN 978-0-9905767-9-2
  2. ^ In Corporate Social Responsibility: Doing the Most Good for Your Company and Your Cause (2005), Nancy Lee and Philip Kotler
  3. ^ N. Malhotra (of Stanford GSB); J. Dann (Jul 1, 2009). "Business Ethics Integral to Corporate Strategy, says Stanford's Malhotra". Archived from the original on March 18, 2017. Retrieved Aug 14, 2018. [BNET:] Ethics as central to overall corporate strategy--is that conventional wisdom or is that a new approach? [Professor:] I think a lot of students think, "Ethics is a constraint on profits." A lot of corporate social responsibility is taught as a part of marketing.
  4. ^ "2020 Edelman Trust Barometer". Edelman.
  5. ^ "Building meaningful is good for business: 77% of consumers buy brands who share their values". Havas Media. February 21, 2019.
  7. ^ Sarkar, Ratan Tata, Stuart L. Hart, Aarti Sharma and Christian. "Why Making Money Is Not Enough". MIT Sloan Management Review.
  8. ^ Bakhtiari, Kian (March 8, 2019). "Brand Activism: Turning Your Purpose Into Action". Entrepreneur.
  9. ^ "Brand Activism Is Driving More Meaningful Connections".
  10. ^ "Brand activism, built on purpose".
  11. ^ Avery, Jill; Pauwels, Koen (December 17, 2018). "Brand Activism: Nike and Colin Kaepernick" – via Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ sport, Guardian (September 16, 2019). "Nike's 'Dream Crazy' advert starring Colin Kaepernick wins Emmy" – via
  13. ^ "Nike sales booming after Colin Kaepernick ad, invalidating critics". ABC News.
  14. ^ Lin, Tom C. W., Incorporating Social Activism (December 1, 2018). 98 Boston University Law Review 1535 (2018)
  15. ^ Lee, Nancy; Kotler, Philip (2013). Corporate social responsibility doing the most good for your company and your cause. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN 978-1118045770.
  16. ^ "Ethical consumerism". April 8, 2020 – via Wikipedia.
  17. ^ "PUMA launches #REFORM to drive Social Change". PUMA SE.
  18. ^ Bardelline, Jonathan (November 17, 2010). "Patagonia Adds Reduce, Repair, Reuse to Clothes Recycling". GreenBiz.
  19. ^ "Case study: Patagonia's 'Don't buy this jacket' campaign". January 23, 2013.
  20. ^ "Patagonia launches Worn Wear, an online store for used gear". TreeHugger.
  21. ^ "A Zero Waste program by Patagonia: The Common Threads Initiative". November 22, 2012.
  22. ^ "Patagonia Wants to Buy Back Your Old Gear". November 1, 2017.
  23. ^ "REI Stewardship Report". REI Co-op.
  24. ^ Aziz, Afdhel. "The Power Of Purpose: Nike And Colin Kaepernick". Forbes.
  25. ^ ""Stand for Something: Brand Activism at Nike" – Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler".
  26. ^ "Our Model: 4 pillars and 8 key commitments". Pernod Ricard, créateurs de convivialité. April 18, 2017.
  27. ^ "Sustainable Development Goals". UNDP.
  28. ^ "Brand activism: do consumers care?". Comscore, Inc.