Virtuous or virtue signalling? How brands should handle social issues

Press/Media: Research

Period17 Aug 2020

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleVirtuous or virtue signalling? How brands should handle social issues
    Degree of recognitionInternational
    Media name/outletInside FMCG
    Media typeWeb
    DescriptionOver years, brands have gained invaluable experiences in making adjustments to their branding strategies to stay relevant and appeal to their target audience, constantly working on their offerings, promotion and communications. From direct branding strategies (eg. visual and verbal brand elements design, etc.) to supporting branding strategies (eg. signature stories, branded content, branded entertainment, and so on), businesses have learned ways to safely interact with their consumers, and facilitate the brand-consumer engagement and participation.

    However, recently we are observing the gradual migration of brands to new territories to feed their brand-consumer communications, where they don’t necessarily have experience. Brands are showing an increasing interest in addressing social issues and taking a stand, signalling they won’t be silent and are committed to fighting issues.

    Over time, different social issues have become of great importance to the public, symbolised by movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Me Too. Brands that can be seen as social change facilitators and addressing societal and cultural tensions, may see such social movements as opportunities to meet expectations, build relevance and become iconic.

    With their power in terms of financial support, product development, communication, public awareness, audience reach, and recruiting talent, brands can be an impactful agent of change. For instance, in light of the protests related to the BLM movement, brands started responding by delaying and reworking their campaigns, changing their logo colour, repurposing their tagline, expressing empathy and solidarity on Twitter and Instagram, and launching new campaigns.

    However, businesses symbolically signalling that they’re ‘woke’ wasn’t enough to gain popularity. The general public wanted the corporate world to go beyond lazy responses and show real commitment. Many brands received backlash and mockery after their black square response to the BLM movement fell flat. But brands were quick to neutralise the backlash and make announcements that would promise a change in the organisation culture going forward. Adidas, for instance, announced that 30 per cent of future recruitment will be from black and Latino communities. Lush globally is currently in the middle of a 100-day plan where the business will achieve key goals towards greater diversity and inclusion internally.
    Producer/AuthorAbas Mirzaei
    PersonsAbas Mirzaei