As you may have heard, corporate activism is an emerging phenomenon that increasingly influences consumer behavior. Public statements made by companies often trigger strong reactions, both in support and opposition. However, the growing number of companies taking a stance on societal issues is a clear indication of a shifting landscape.
Currently, corporate responsibility seems to be transitioning from an optional add-on or value proposition to an expected and necessary aspect of a successful business. Market research worldwide shows that consumers have become more discerning and socially conscious, actively choosing not to support companies that act against their values or neglect human rights.
It’s no wonder that nowadays companies aspire to engage individuals not only as customers and consumers but also as citizens and active members of society. A temporary blow to reputation can be a minor cost if the company secures a place in history as a trailblazer and advocate for socially significant causes.
Controversies tend to be short-lived
Often, those who react most passionately to corporate activism are individuals who believe that companies, like Gillette, known for their shaving products, have gone too far in supporting the #MeToo movement.
Others, if I may exaggerate a little, saw the renaming of classical Eskimo ice cream as the greatest crime against humanity. Some Finns may also recall the uproar that ensued a few decades ago when Finland’s oldest confectionery factory, Bruneberg, changed the name of their beloved chocolate kisses.
Many swore that their story was over and that no one would ever buy their chocolate kisses again, because they changed their openly racist and hateful name to Bruneberg’s Kisses. But look at them now. Bruneberg managed to navigate the name change and is doing better than ever.
In the same manner, in the past, it was absolutely unthinkable for any company to openly support the international LGBT pride movement. Nowadays, the lack of support is considered conservative, old-fashioned, and a statement in itself.
Choosing your battles wisely is paramount
When planning advocacy campaigns, companies should always consider in advance whose sensibilities may be affected when highlighting specific issues. Rather than launching an aggressive attack against something, it is advisable to act as a catalyst for discussion, encouraging consumers to evaluate the ethics of different stakeholders.
We all know that excessive societal influence comes with inherent risks. Actions may be perceived as hypocritical by activists and consumers, resulting in negative consequences for the company. Nobody wants Ronald McDonald barging into their living rooms and dictating how they should live their lives.
Hence, it is crucial to carefully choose which battles to engage in. As a general guideline, it’s smarter to take a stance on issues with a significant impact on society or those directly affecting the company and its industry.
It is not advantageous to be seen solely as an activist or as a general answering machine for journalists who seek comments on the fate of the so-called Walrus of Hamina, which traveled all the way from the Norwegian Sea through the Danish straits to the Baltic Sea and eventually to the Gulf of Finland, where it met its end.