Across the western world, the biggest companies are growing a conscience, prodded along by shifts in public opinion, changing political climates and their own young employees, and are beginning to incorporate progressive messages in to their external communications.
Take Oatly, for example, the plant milk maker has plastered provocative messages such as it’s like milk but made for humans across billboards around the world to great effect, both in terms of brand recognition and its bottom line – in April, the brand announced plans for a New York listing valuing the group at $10bn.
Oatly’s growth – from generating roughly $200m in revenue in 2019 to an estimated $800m this year – is an example of what New York Times columnist Ross Douthat coined “woke capitalism”.
While Douthat was referring to corporate virtue signalling – an issue pervasive in business, just look at Kendall Jenner stopping a riot with a Pepsi can – the term has evolved beyond Douthat’s initial definition and now has positive elements to it.
The values attached to being “woke” – an awareness of social inequality and promotion of liberal, anti-discriminatory views – are often at the heart of a brand’s communications strategy, with more and more businesses flirting with the realm of politics and aligning themselves with progressive messages.
CanO Water is a case in point: the London based start-up was set up to tackle plastic pollution in the oceans and encourages customers to ditch the bottle in favour for its resealable can. Similarly, Pip & Nut – which secured a seven-figure funding package last year – has placed its non-use of palm oil at the centre of its messaging.
The decision by these brands to make “woke” – or perhaps more appropriately, progressiveness – a central pillar of their communication strategy is also driven by changing consumer attitudes. Consumers not only prefer it if brands are progressive, but they also expect it. And are more than happy to vote with their feet if they feel a brand is deploying good causes only for advertising purposes.
Millennials have the highest expectations for brands to speak out about societal issues, according to research from Kantar. Forty-six percent of the age group expect brands to be brave, followed by 42% of Gen-Z with these expectations.
Only 31% of Gen Xers and 22% of Baby Boomers expect brands to take a public stance on social issues.
As consumers – particularly those in the younger age bracket – look for ways to make changes in their own lives to support issues including fighting racial injustices and protecting the environment, many view their wallets as a way to help change the world.
As a result, brands have to take the initiative and lead the conversation around societal issues relevant to their industry. The value of this is twofold: firstly, it will attract younger consumers who increasingly base their spending habits off their values, and secondly, it will protect the brand from the consumer lead backlashes we’ve seen dished out to businesses who’ve failed to speak up about social issues.
Of course, the values have to be authentically held by the business. And to do this, brands should dedicate time to finalising their progressive messages and must remember that an LGBT themed sandwich is never a good idea.
If you’d be interested in discussing how to distill your brand’s key messages why not get in touch today to discuss how we could support you.