Will taking a stand further fragment brands?

by Nigel Hollis | October 30, 2017

Brands have been called on to make a stand and many have answered the call. So far this year we have seen a number of large, well-known brands lining up to save the world or make it a better place to live in. I applaud the fact that these brands are willing to take a stand, but I do wonder if it is yet another step on the road to brand fragmentation.

In an opinion piece published in AdAge earlier this year Deb Freeman, chief strategy officer at FCB New York, highlights the rise of the everyday activist and states,

“The brands that align to these new everyday activist values are going to be the ones that win. In our new world -- where the masses are making their voices heard in bold, public ways -- brands must start doing the same, or risk their competitors outshining them. It's critical, however, to make sure that your stance is born out of your preexisting purpose. Otherwise, you will appear opportunistic.”

But is this viewpoint correct? Should brands enter the fight or might they benefit more from offering a point of stability and neutrality in a chaotic and partisan world? Freeman notes that beloved brands have been defined by “human truths”. In the past the two words human and truth would have been prefaced by third, and that word is “universal”.

standing-united646x366

A universal human truth ideally spans culture, borders and time. Brands like Coca-Cola, Pampers and Facebook did not become the global powerhouses they are today without the ability to engage the emotions of a widely varied audience of all colors and creeds. While it is easy to fixate on the differences between people across and within countries, there is huge consistency in what binds us together as human beings: feelings like love for family, the desire for happiness and the satisfaction of caring for others.

I cannot help but feel that in the desperate rush to be part of the cultural debate many brands risk not only fragmenting what they stand for – because not everyone shares the views of the well-intentioned brand manager – but also heightening the divides between us. In the political world we see ever stronger acrimony of discourse and a growing political divide. Could we see the same thing happen with a brand’s customer base as it divides into loyalists who espouse the same cause and deniers who do not?

Far-fetched? Maybe. But one thing is for sure, Freeman is completely correct when she states that brands must ensure that their stand originates from a pre-existing purpose. Do not take up issues related to fair and equal pay if your company does not already walk the talk. Do not suggest your brand is sustainable unless you are doing everything you can to make it so. Because if the truth comes out the social media maelstrom will show no mercy.

But what do you think? Could brands taking up social and environmental causes actually increase fragmentation? Please share your thoughts. 

1 comment

Leave a comment
  1. Ed C, October 30, 2017
    I think brands could hurt themselves if taking up a cause and it isn't done carefully. Like you said, it has a to be a universal truth. I recently wondered if any brand would take a stand on the anthem/kneeling issue? While clearly a divided issue, I wonder if a brand that states something like "we accept the fact that we all want to be treated as equal - and we accept the fact that we should honor the symbols that reflect the society where such equality is even a possible reality; let's start that conversation" could be a good one? Sort of like that Heineken ad that admitted there were two sides and that both should talk in a bar over a drink to see each other's view vs. standing alone with it (and talking to yourself). "Starting a conversation" could be sponsored over any branded beer, any telecoms company, any social media platform, etc. To reiterate your point, I think brands should tread carefully here but it could be a powerful strategy to tap into these truths, especially current ones.

    Leave a comment

    Share