Brand Activitism for Social Change: A Consumer Perspective
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Purpose – Brand activism is an emerging concept in academia and a growing phenomenon in marketing practice. When well-executed, evidence suggests that brand activism can create beneficial outcomes for the brand, such as increased sales or positive brand associations, but outcomes for the cause are harder to identify. This study aims to better understand how to create meaningful social change through brand activism. Specifically, this study uses a consumer-focused lens to understand how brand activism campaigns can be best designed to encourage meaningful consumer support responses for the cause to truly affect social change. Methodology – To achieve the purpose of this study, three focus groups were conducted with a representative consumer sample. Within the context of the Black Lives Matter Movement, consumers’ interpretation of, responses to, and expectations of brand activism were discussed with regards to brand responses following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. Findings – The results in this study revealed a shift in consumer expectations for brands that take a sociopolitical stand. Consumers are not looking for brands to use any specific campaign elements in their brand activism activity (e.g. a credible spokesperson) because they now look for an authentic internal commitment to support any external messaging at a bare minimum. This shift in consumer expectations was unexpected but highlighted the change in brand activism practice over the past few years. Consumers are less likely to contribute to a social cause on the back of brand activism because they think it is the brand’s responsibility to impact the cause directly. Originality – This study contributes to the developing body of brand activism literature and provides a necessary early step to understanding the growing phenomena. While brand activism is still developing in the market, this study helps lay the foundation for future consumer research to help further, and ongoing brand activism activities benefit both the brand and the cause to affect social change.