Building Brand Experiences: Selling Activism Without Selling Out

  • People are increasingly aware of global issues and want to take action
  • Purchasing a product means taking action and making a statement about personal values
  • Showing customers how they can take action is an important future opportunity for brands
  • What does activism look like for your brand?

Last month creative agency Household continued to unpack the ‘Betterment’ trend; the desire to do better, be better and feel better in all areas of life. With female empowerment a prominent topic in the wellness industry, in this column the team will be examining authentic activism through brands championing women’s rights.

A new era of brand activism
The September edition of British Vogue made headlines for several reasons, not least for its guest editor, the Duchess of Sussex. But beyond celebrity, the magazine stood out for its celebration of activists, leaders and ‘Forces for Change’: 15 portraits of game-changing women and a mirrored square to fill the sixteenth space, inviting the reader to become part of this movement too.

In the wake of #MeToo, this year has seen a strong focus on female empowerment in media and politics alike: this summer’s Women’s World Cup was broadcast on main TV channels for the first time, a major international #MeToo conference was held in Reykavik Iceland earlier this month, and teenage girls are leading the youth climate movement online.

Building Brand Experiences: Selling Activism Without Selling Out

As people’s definition of community expands beyond local, interconnectivity means that we are more aware of global issues than ever before. With the evolution of the betterment trend, we have seen individuals looking beyond self-improvement to consider the needs of others too. And people want to take action. 

Putting your money where your mouth is has taken on a life of its own, as customers increasingly scrutinise the ins and outs of brands. And in an era of VSCO-girl branded feminism, a product posted on Instagram is a statement of identity. 86 percent of US customers believe companies should take a stand on social issues (Shelton Group, 2018). This means that for the customer, making a purchase means taking a stand.

We’ve seen the rise of social entrepreneurial brands, like lingerie brand Third Love, that champion a buy one give one business model, making it easy for customers to not only take a stand on the matters that mean the most but to actively make a difference to a cause they care about. 

Take feminine hygiene brand Hey Girls. With one in 10 young women unable to afford their own period products, and many regularly missing school as a result, Hey Girls donates a box of its ethically sourced pads to low-income families for every box purchased.

Elsewhere, meal kit delivery brand Mindful Chef has partnered with charity One Feeds Two, meaning for every Mindful meal sold, it donates a school meal to a child living in poverty, while sustainable water bottle brand S’well’s partnership with UNICEF has raised $800,000 since 2015 to help bring clean water to communities across the globe.

Building Brand Experiences: Selling Activism Without Selling Out
Image: Mindful Chef

Bringing brand purpose to life with bricks and mortar
When done right, brand activism can forge deeper connections and build advocacy, provided of course that the chosen social issue aligns with the brand. Elevating a brand’s activist purpose through all touchpoints, online and offline, will help build belief that this is something the brand really cares about.

Brick-and-mortar provides a unique platform for brands to bring activist messaging to life and build a supportive customer community around shared values.

Bulletin, a retail store and feminist brand collective, is a business with an activist message at its core. Its five stores across New York provide a platform for small female-run brands that could not otherwise afford a physical retail space. Products are targeted around millennial customers that want to make a statement, from socks reading “Satan is a woman” to mugs labelled “Misogynist tears”. Ten percent of its sales currently go to Planned Parenthood in New York City. 

Earlier this year, we visited the Body Shop’s International Women’s Day pop up, featuring an exhibition aimed at educating guests about the women that produce The Body Shop’s Community Trade shea butter: ‘A She in Every Shea’. The pop up combined self-care with female empowerment, reviving the activist values the brand was founded on. Now, the Body Shop’s new London flagship gives activism a permanent retail presence, with an activism corner where customers can make their own pledges for change.

Sephora, meanwhile, offers ‘Classes for Confidence’ — free 90-minute beauty classes designed to empower transgender customers. Those dealing with body dysmorphia can attend free make up classes, taught by the brand’s own transgender employees. Not only is the provision of the classes a statement of acceptance and inclusion, but by recognising unique colleague expertise, Sephora can offer invaluable, authentic support to customers. 

The role of the store in bringing a brand’s purpose to life will continue to grow, and this is where relationships will flourish between customers and the brand. What does activism look like for your brand?

Household is an award-winning creative agency building transformative brand experiences that blend experience strategy, innovation and design for modern brands around the world. The company works globally from London and Los Angeles. 

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