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When Should Brands Engage in Slacktivism?

By Aki Kaltenbach | 6 months ago | News | No Comments

First Lady Michelle Obama joined the chorus demanding that Boko Haram #bringbackourgirls further propelling the movement. Photo via Instagram

Social activism has been in the forefront of the news in the past couple weeks with an outpouring of tweets with the hashtags #BringBackOurGirls and #YesAllWomen.

The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, bringing attention to the 257 girls kidnapped in Nigeria, first appeared on Twitter on April 23 and has been tweeted more than 3.3m times as of May 13.

This past weekend saw the latest permutation of what some critics call ‘slactivism’ with the hashtag #YesAllWomen, which was attached to 1.2 million tweets, peaking at 61,500 tweets on May 25 and used by women and men alike to share their personal stories around male entitlement.

Despite the endless stream of tweets that filled my screen, I couldn’t help but notice how few brands were taking part in any of these conversations. Which made me wonder why that is. Is there room for brands to have a voice, and furthermore, and do businesses have a responsibility to take a stand against what they believe is unjust?

You can’t blame brands for not wanting to always engage in what can be dangerous waters, where the risks often outweighs the rewards. Who can forget @KennethCole’s infamous tweet using the hashtag #Cairo to sell more shoes during the protests in Egypt in 2011? The tweet caused a massive backlash and the brand had no choice but to issue an apology. But not before the avalanche of indignant @ replies calling the company out for its tone deaf attempt to cash in on a deadly serious situation.

Sometimes brands have no choice but to participate in the conversation. When the hashtag #burritosnotbullets started gaining traction, Chipotle listened to their customers and changed their policy from “simply comply[ing] with local laws regarding the open or concealed carrying of firearms” to “respectfully asking that customers not bring guns into our restaurants, unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”

However, the companies that are stepping up and voicing their beliefs and values for all to see are not as easy to find. One brand that is leading the charge on this front is crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, who have been vociferous about their support for #NetNeutrality.

And their supporters are recognizing them for sticking their neck out.

Companies are increasingly playing a larger role in addressing big social challenges. So when should a brand choose to stay silent and when does it make sense to join a social media movement? Among the key questions to consider, it’s important to evaluate how relevant the cause is to your brand. In Kickstarter’s case, much of their success was due to access to an open and free internet. Their business depended on it and still depends on it, therefore their opinion is not only relevant, its a valuable contribution to the conversation.

It’s also important to scrutinize your objectives for participating in the conversation. Many saw Kenneth Cole’s mis-tweet as a marketing campaign designed to sell more shoes and some even argue that it worked. However, that’s a risky move for most marketers. If your intention is to drive website traffic, there are better ways of doing that.

As long as your goals are to raise awareness around an issue that aligns with your values and where you feel you can have influence, your audience will recognize and reward you for participating.

1 comments
Ariel Almanzar
Ariel Almanzar

Very interesting article, thank you for sharing. Today, the hard part about marketing is not driving people to where you need them, but to understand you with few words. We are so overwhelmed with the media, finances, time (fast everything), that is impossible to be misunderstood. Before being only TV, Radio, and newspapers, with a clear, pause and well addressed message people would consider your idea, philosophy, product or service easier that today. Now, we have to be short, precise and direct to the point, just because i have no time to analyze, think and decide what to do, we go by feelings. 



Knowing this and going to my point, we (and I include myself in it) are too busy listening to others, including ourselves; we have been driven to create a wants and needs that do not belong to us, as a society, culture, ideas and believes. Today we want it all, but in reality we want nothing. Marketers knowing this, they have to create a controversy, just to be in the middle of the action. They need to go in the dark and hope that the concept that they throwing it would stick. 


We want blue shoes, when we have them, now I do not want it and don't like it. We are dealing with a low thinking society that moves only by feelings, and this is dangerous for business.