2017: The Year Brands Dared to Speak Up

2017 was rough, ya’ll. There’s some collective trauma no matter what side of the aisle or world you’re on. Case in point: the US government basically admitted to the existence of UFOs and somehow it didn’t make breaking news? It can often seem easier to tune out and remain numb than engage with or act on every injustice we faced.  Yet au contraire, we’re at a boiling point, where people are mad as hell and it’s translating into something kind of beautiful. Women are speaking up, with Time Magazine naming “The Silence Breakers” their people of the year. Professors were arrested protesting Trump’s decision to eliminate DACA. And Alabama rose up to block Roy Moore and elected their first democrat senator in 25 years, Doug Wilson. Apathy is waning and giving way to action. And brands are no exception. They’re realizing that if they haven’t already take a stance and stood for something that aligns with their values, they’re way behind. Which is why I listed 5 key issues the US and indeed the wider world faces, and the brands that did a stellar job addressing and taking action on them in 2017.

Refugees & Travel Ban – Airbnb #weaccept

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After Trump issued the travel ban earlier this year, Airbnb founder Brian Cheskey tweeted that they would offer free housing to those affected. They followed that up (less than a week later) with a promise to continue supporting displaced people affected by war, disaster, and political mandates. Airbnb relies on people opening up their homes to strangers which is why this issue is at the core of their being. Their swift reaction sets an example for how to react earnestly to political news that disrupts the core of their company’s mission.

Environmental protection – Patagonia Fights for National Monuments

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On December 4, 2017, Trump signed proclamations to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Soon after the news came out, Patagonia made the daring move of dedicating their homepage (around the holidays no less) to generating awareness. Visitors were invited to learn more about the unprecedented move and take action by telling the administration they’re against the proclamation. It doesn’t stop there – they are standing with environmental groups to challenge trump’s decision in court. Patagonia’s activist roots run deep and this is an example of how far they’ll go to protect the land that they and their customers explore.

Women’s Rights – Boeing “Women Make Us Better”

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I came across this video on the Facebook feed and it made me stop in my tracks. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. Boeing Engineers read letters in response to women inquiring about engineering programs almost 100 years ago. Their reactions seem genuine and through their sighs and eye rolls, I felt their quiet, but palpable outrage. Boeing did the right thing by putting their female engineers front and center – letting them tell the story of frustration that so many women in male-dominated careers encounter on a daily basis. The company is also walking the talk  – they’ve partnered with STEM organizations to invest in community programs that inspire young women to pursue a career in math and science.

 

Racism – P&G “The Talk”

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P&G’s powerful spot highlights black parents across decades having talks with their children about the injustice they faced or may face in the future.  They received harsh criticism and praise for their approach. I’m sure this wasn’t a surprise to P&G – the reactions mirror the divisiveness our country faces everyday. I commend them for taking the risk to address a complicated issue that a lot of other companies shy away from. It pulls back the curtain on difficult conversations and through its intimate portrayal, shines a light on the realities of raising a black child in America.

Gun Control – Sandy Hook Promise – “Tomorrow’s News”

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So, I searched and searched and couldn’t find one example of a company publicly advocating for gun control. This surprised me, especially considering the Vegas shooting on October 1 was the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Of course, companies tweet their condolences and stand with victims, but from what I can tell, none are actively promoting gun control or fighting for legislation to enact common sense gun laws. Perhaps it’s too far removed from their core values or the debate is too politically charged to take a stance. Non-profit organizations are picking up the slack. A great example is Sandy Hook Promise’s “Tomorrow’s News” spot by BBDO New York. It creatively highlights inaction leading up to these tragic events. This follows a 2016 spot called “Evan” that demonstrates how we can overlook the warning signs of a school shooter.

What do all of these brands have in common? A tight link between the cause and their mission. These are powerful messages because the companies standing for them have a deep interest in generating awareness and doing something to enact change in these areas. It will be interesting to see what brands step up in 2018. I have a feeling I’ll have an even more exhaustive list this time next year.

 

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WRITTEN BY:

Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a marketing professional with a passion for using the power of business and media to enact real change. She's originally from New Jersey and moved to New York to work in cause marketing and non-profit advertising. Her need for fresh air and interest in weaving sustainability into the fabric of companies through meaningful and authentic communications sent her to Oregon where she's currently getting her MBA in sustainable business practices from University of Oregon. You can read more posts from Ali at causechangecomms.com.