Creating connections. Let’s talk about brand activism.

Elisabetta Baccaglio Head of strategy
Brand activism

In the current pandemic, greater awareness of the global situation and its problems has emerged and, as a result, a number of trends which were just beginning to gain ground in Italy have been fast tracked.

The time has come for brands to take a stand and speak about brand activism.


Brand activism (according to Kotler) is the evolution of corporate social responsibility. Brands can no longer settle for minimising their impact on the environment and consumers, they need to do more, take a stand and engage in tackling serious, pressing issues which will affect the community in the mid to long term. 

They can’t ignore it anymore. People want authenticity, they want to see brands act and help them solve problems. 

Technology is having a devastating effect on advertising, just as it did with the music industry (ad blockers come to mind), the meaning of marketing crisis and the introduction of demarketing… the consensus is that the world has changed and will continue to do so.


First things first. I’d like to recommend a really interesting book “Good Is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn” by Afdhel Aziz, a New York marketing expert who explains the benefits of adopting a marketing strategy that makes the world a better place. Because connecting with people as citizens, and not just as consumers, makes a brand a more human, meaningful and invaluable part of society. 

Have you ever heard of “Conspiracy of love”?

It’s not just poetry, it’s a movement that asks brands to take a stand. So how can we sit back and ignore it?


Before developing a marketing strategy for a brand, I always ask the client to tell me a bit about themselves.

More often than not, they start waxing lyrical about their products, the story of their founders, anything and everything but the identity of the brand. I didn’t ask you what you do, but who you are.

It’s not a problem if you don’t know but you will have to work to define your PURPOSE, a loftier objective than mere profit. It’s a brand’s identity that defines its positioning in the world, its essence, what determines its importance.  

Besides, it can also offer creative fertile ground and a «place» to come back to after necessary digressions. Because, very often, having a safe place to return to is the best cure for marketing anxiety.

I’ll never stop recommending it, whether the company is large, medium or small; it’s not an exercise in style but a fundamental choice because if you don’t know who you are and what your role in society is, you will be hard-pressed to build a successful brand.

What should you do? This brings us to the famous sweet spot, the point where what the brand wants to say intersects with what the target group is actually interested in. The very first thing you should do is take a good look at your brand and then around you. Because there’s nothing worse than putting everything you have into communicating something that nobody is interested in. This, magically, leads to data and analyses, the real kind, namely integrating traditional or survey-based analysis techniques with sources of passive behavioural, web or internal data

Once you have identified your place in the world and analysed whether your customer’s mentality matches that of your product or brand, you can strategically decide if you should focus your communication strategy on your purpose. This will help you understand how you should be channelling your efforts to create connections while doing good.


The next step is to seek out allies, other brands (why not?), testimonials, influencers, nonprofit organisations and even actual activists

Activists have always been seen as a threat to companies whose processes or practices conflict with what these groups stand for. But they are actually a great opportunity for brands. So why not involve them? Why not approach these experts for advice because they are eager to partner with people who can effectively instigate change? 


We need virtuous examples and they are beginning to appear in Italy. Take Flowe, for instance, a better-being plat-firm by Banca Mediolanum which is revolutionising the narrative of the banking system as it combines finance, education, sustainability and gaming. In just eight minutes you can open an account using the app, get a card made from wood from certified forests and plant a tree in the Pèten region in Guatemala. Or there is Phyd, an artificial intelligence-based platform from the Adecco Group in collaboration with Microsoft which offers guidance in the world of work and is changing the narrative of employability.

Have a positive impact and increase profit, what more could you ask for? You mustn’t be afraid of brandwashing, many have fallen and got back up again. Starbucks is still around, even after the epic failure of “Race together”, right? The important thing is to translate your words into actions and make sure you are transparent and sincere in your commitment. Start by organising small initiatives that match the size and objectives of your company, because customer loyalty is a chimera and brand reputation is increasingly fragile. “Doing good” is possibly one of the few tools we’ve got left and keeping quiet is beginning to look risky.


An interesting study on the relationship between brands and activists can be found in the 2020 Global Communication Report “New Activism” by the Center of Public Relations of the USC Anneberg School for Communication.

I also recommend the book “Good Is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn” which you can find here