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.

Warby Parker’s Fashionable Rise to Fame


Warby Parker's Facebook page
Warby Parker’s Facebook page

If you’ve found yourself dreaming of gazing into Ryan Gosling’s beautiful eyes (and really, who hasn’t?), you’ll likely have to do it through his Warby Parker glasses. Warby Parker, the latest “IT” eyeglass brand, has perched its affordable yet fashion-forward specs on the noses of hipsters, value seekers and celebrities alike.

However, success didn’t happen overnight. How did Warby Parker transform from being a Wharton MBA class project to being named Fast Company’s #1 Most Innovative  companies of 2015, usurping perennial favorites Google and Apple?

The cofounders of Warby Parker strategically spent money on only three things: 1) building out a website that they hired an external developer for, 2) the original set of inventory, 3) public relations. In Dave Gilboa’s (co-founder of Warby Parker) own words, “and the third was hiring a fashion publicist who was able to get us the meetings with the right people at GQ and Vogue. So we went in to pitch to them and got these great editorial features we really wanted – and a stamp of approval. GQ called us the ‘Netflix of eyewear.’ And we just started getting orders pouring in.”  These orders grew so large that they had to create a waitlist functionality within the first day, and ended up having a 20,000 person waitlist that took them nine months to work through.

Besides having an obviously unique product, what did Warby Parker do right in terms of its marketing? Being bootstrapped for cash, they strategically used their marketing dollars for public relations, hiring someone who was able to get them an audience in front of top fashion influencers who loved their eyeglasses. Numbers don’t lie, especially a 20,000 person waitlist of people desperate to get their hands on Warby Parker eyeglasses.

When you’re a brand new startup, and need to get your brand in the eyes and mouths of your niche audience, spend money on public relations. It’ll get you farther than just listing your company and phone number on a blimp or a television spot. Having a great product plus the right marketing strategy equals growth for your startup.

By Courtney Lee