As Brands Try to Sell “Woke,” Customers Wise Up

As social and political resistance movements make daily headlines, is there room for a brand in that conversation? A few companies have tried to make social awareness a focal point of ads or messaging, but have come off doing more damage than good.

Today’s consumers actually prize social responsibility — but not as a selling point. Sadly, some companies haven’t learned that lesson.

Recently, Pepsi and Lyft have tried to position themselves as socially-aware brands, but the pitches have backfired. Pepsi used Kendall Jenner as the catalyst of a fake resistance rally, calming tensions between the people and the police by delivering a Pepsi to an officer. Lyft has been trying to distance itself from its tumultuous competitor Uber, as cofounder John Zimmer called his company “woke.”

Pepsi quickly pulled its ad, but not before a wave of outrage from social media, and the ensuing mocking memes. The commercial was incredibly tone-deaf, making light of tense conflicts with the police. Lyft’s Zimmer saw his comments laughed off, as consumers pointed out that they don’t treat drivers much better than Uber. Customers are able to see right through these types of efforts.

By trying to look socially responsible, these companies have actually hurt themselves and barged into a conversation not meant for them.

Consumers don’t want social responsibility to be part of an ad campaign. They want to buy from companies that actively practice it — and not just in front of a camera.

Instead of showcasing your “wokeness” in an ad or staging a fake resistance rally just for product placement, brands can actually gain superfans by enacting more responsible practices.

A study by Nielsen shows that consumers will respond to true, authentic awareness with their wallets. In that survey, 66 percent of those polled said they’d be willing to spend more on products that come from companies committed to a positive social and environmental impact.

Here are a few ways brands can practice social responsibility (and not come under fire on Twitter):

Make it part of your mission

One of the key tenets of companies such as Salesforce, Patagonia and Adobe is charitable efforts. They encourage their employees to donate to charity and spend hours during volunteer work, often giving them a reward for doing so. This is a common and very effective way to practice corporate social responsibility without contacting an ad agency.

Highlight charitable practices

TOMS Shoes has become a popular brand, especially among Millennials, for their One for One program. For each pair of shoes purchased, TOMS donates a pair to someone in need of footwear. Brands big and small can find a way to tie sales to charitable giving, positioning themselves as the socially conscious choice through action, not advertising. TOMS’ philanthropic business model has become so industry-leading that other brands such as Warby Parker have emulated their One for One program.

Green up the office

The most basic way to become a socially responsible brand is to bring environmentally conscious practices in house. Whether it’s doing what you can to become a paperless office or ensuring that employees all through the supply chain are paid and treated fairly, find out how you can improve within your walls by looking into programs such as becoming a certified B Corporation.

Champion a cause close to consumers’ hearts

As you learn more about your customer base, you’ll find that they have causes near and dear to their hearts. For local brands, it could be cleaning up a local lake. For bigger brands (such as Target), it’s helping schools. When you use your name, money and workforce to be a champion of this cause, it will only strengthen the bond between your company and your customers.
It won’t be cheap or easy, but truly taking the steps toward corporate social responsibility will be worth it. Today’s consumers prefer to spend their money with companies dedicated to making the world (or local area) a better place. They’re savvy enough to see through a glitzy ad campaign, knowing which companies truly walk the walk.

By Justin L.

All the GOOD Things

If you’ve got a great idea to solve one of the world’s many many many problems but don’t know what to do with that idea, turn your browser to and enter for a chance to win a $50,000 prize from GOOD and TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie.

Mycoskie perfectly embodies starting something that matters. The social entrepreneur has built quite the charitable shoe empire with his popular “one for one” business model that values philanthropy over profits. Mycoskie is proof that you don’t have to be ruthless to be successful, and that giving really is good business. He’s taking all of the profits from the sales of his best-selling book and throwing it back into the good karma universe.

GOOD and its CEO and founder, Ben Goldhirsh, is cut from the same social entrepreneurial cloth as Mycoskie. The online community platform for “people who give a damn” has provided countless opportunities for others who share the same values. While GOOD has been a sounding board and resource for people who simply wish to do their part in making the world a better place, it’s also been an excellent source of opportunities for people who want to be the next Blake Mycoskie or Ben Goldhirsh.

With the launch of the Start Something That Matters Challenge, any U.S. resident with a business idea that benefits the world can win $50,000 to help jump-start that business. The Challenge is open until May 17 so start thinking with your heart and your dollars.

In addition to the Start Something That Matters Challenge, GOOD also recently launched the Global Neighborhood Challenge, an excellent opportunity for five global recipients to win a “pop-up fellowship” at GOOD’s Los Angeles headquarters. That includes the all-expenses paid trip (especially enticing if you live in, say, Brazil) and the opportunity to learn from the do-gooders at GOOD, who can help you expand your community idea into a scalable one that will work just as well in Nigeria as it would in Denver.

Now you have no excuse not to do some good.