Woke Advertising is the practice of using social issues as part of advertising and marketing campaigns.
The term ‘Woke’ comes from being conscious of injustice in society. In the current political and environmental climate people are looking for ways to play a part in fighting injustice and making a stand for what they believe in.
By associating yourself with someone or something who share your views you can feel like you’re actively making a difference.
The progression of Advertising methods
The progression of advertising and the impact of the internet has changed the way consumers interact with brands.
A whole new world opened up to advertising at the arrival of the internet. Brands can now reach their customers on a much larger scale and interact with them on a personal level. But this also means that brands now have to shout louder to make more of an impact.
If we think of TV adverts, we typically put the kettle on or reach for our smart phones when the adverts come on. That’s if anyone has a TV anymore. Adverts interrupt your engagement with a particular activity. Once the advert is over you re-engage.
Online advertising has to compete with the fact we can install apps like AdBlock, we can tailor our preferences and delete our cookies, we can be just as dismissive to online ads as we are with TV ads. As consumers we don’t like to feel like we are being sold to.
What brands need is interaction with their audience and for their audience to create conversation. Brands don’t want to interrupt your engagement with a TV show or a YouTube video or news article, they want to be what you’re engaging with.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Consumers have the power to reward and punish a brand and the power to make something go ‘viral’.
In response, brands have started to increase their engagement with Corprorate Social Responsibility and be part of the demand for positive change. We now see more brands standing up to injustice and using their exposure to highlight important issues.
As a consumer you can feel more positive about a brand when their values align with yours, and by supporting that brand you are indirectly supporting a cause you care about.
Millennials are leading the way in expecting brands to stand for something and stand up for something. However, they do view brands with a more critical eye, with statistics showing that 76%* of Millennials will research a company and look at the finer details to determine if their actions are in line with their values.
Millennials are also the most likely to promote their favourite brands and engage in conversations online about brands who adhere to their CSR. A brand will get caught out if their actions contradict the message they are trying to convey, choosing to engage in woke advertising leaves you open to scrutiny.
Woke branding and Corporate social responsibility is not altruistic, businesses who actively involve themselves in social responsibilities see an increase in brand awareness and profits, however there are a circle of benefits that work for each recipient. A win win situation, if not exploited or corrupted.
Do we turn to brands to feel part of something?
You can buy a coffee on your way to work, and be part of the Starbucks tribe and then check your phone and be part of the Samsung tribe and open your laptop and be part of the Apple tribe.
The important part of that statement is that consumers are in control, there are so many brands to choose from to suit our needs and situations that if one brand fails to live up to expectations we have the power to boycott at large scale.
Are we turning to our favourite brands to reaffirm our beliefs and to allow us to feel satisfied that w e’ve played a part in the bigger picture? Or does the power of woke branding lie in our desires to feel a sense of belonging and to connect with others?
Woke Advertising Mishaps
There have been many mishaps with woke advertising, take the recent Kendall Jenna Pepsi commercial for example which was pulled due to claims that it was trivialising Black Lives Matter.
As a brand strategy, woke advertising or marketing is risky. Large corporations have the benefit of having a large budget to be able to survive extreme negative PR and can therefore afford to be experimental and provocative safe in the knowledge they can pay for any problems to go away, should they arise.
Huge brands, our little gods, are so embedded in our culture that we forgive them much quicker. You could be angry with Nike for an ad campaign but 4 months later they may release a new design and damn you want those shoes.
Smaller businesses and independent brands can’t afford to lose the trust and loyalty they’ve developed in their customer base and it would be wise to take caution when including Corporate Social Responsibly into their plans.
There are many ways you can get involved with Corporate Social Responsibility without causing a media storm. Many businesses are actively involved in charity, community work and activism. It has become a part of company strategy to give back and provide assistance to important causes. This is encouraged and embraced, where we should take caution is when a brand tackles a subject that they aren’t fully invested in.