In the Age of Viral Boycott, How Can Brands Deal With the Concept of Woke Advertising

Authentic woke content has created an opportunity for brands to connect with their audience more up and close.

What does it mean to be woke? To put it simply, it is a term used to describe a person who is aware of the world’s prevalent political and social issues. What happens when we intertwine the concept of being woke to marketing? It gives birth to brands that produce content to create awareness among their audience and not just promote their brand. It goes to show how they extend support to social causes and brand themselves as more than just a sales-driven entity.

In the age of social media, everything and anything can be found online. The world is connected on a single forum and socio-political issues of all sorts are brought to daylight with each passing second. Some stir up users and brands tend to leverage these to create woke content to both create awareness and increase engagement by following the basics of moment marketing.

Brands that engage in woke advertising match reform messaging and values that align with prosocial corporate practice; this is often known as brand activism. Brands strive for creating a potential social change and gain numbers in brand equity. This often proves to show how brands have a social conscious. Authentic brand activism talks about a brand’s purpose, values, messaging, and practice that determine and build a holistic system to create authenticity.

Authentic woke content has created an opportunity for brands to connect with their audience more up and close, and give them a campaign that their audience relates to. The success rate of woke campaigns is undoubtedly high owing to the more liberally minded millennial and generation Z.

Superbowl’s #LikeAGirl campaign in 2014 talked about how many young girls consider themselves weak due to the social conditioning of gash lighting and tearing them down as one. The campaign not only broke the stigma around girls but also proved as one of the first ad series with a feminist stance generating as much as 96% positive sentiment in just three months, with 90 million views. It also ranked as the second most viral video globally.

Brands should also acknowledge the high risk associated with woke advertising. To maintain legitimacy in handling delicate social or political issues is to prevent the risk from grappling with your brand’s entire entity. Nike, being one of the leading advocates of racial representation, took the right risk with their Kaepernick campaign, even though it did not sit well with conservative viewers.

Brand when planning a global campaign should have a thorough study on different attitudes towards social and political matters such as gender, sexuality, diversity, culture, religion, among others, as all these factors influence how people think. Some markets have very strict taboos dictated by religion. India being a diverse nation is one such market that is very sensitive about cultural appropriation and religion.

Recently brands like FabIndia have been a subject of scrutiny; their visualisation did not go well with the masses and they were virally boycotted for the same. Similarly, Tanishq and Red Label found themselves in jeopardy last year for apparently promoting controversial campaigns.

In the era of cancel culture, brands are walking around eggshells in the sea of consumers that do not appreciate woke washing. It is when brands detach themselves from the practice of authentic brand activism that they create inauthentic ads that are often misleading to their users. They not only damage their social image but hinder the potential of being seen as a flag-bearer of brand activism that believes in social change.

Brands need to realise that they are far too human. Advertising is a mirror to what society stands for, tolerates and allows up to a limit. Creating a woke campaign is never a bad idea. It is the execution that needs to be well fixated on creating a positive impact rather than an impact that gets people riled up. Brands need to and have to walk the talk and respectfully handle issues that are sensitive to their consumers in order to prevail as a game-changer in their market.

However, to put the onus of change on capitalist brands would only allow them to further their cause and deviate the focus from the actual issue at hand.

Brands will take time to fully understand the scope of woke advertising but for that to happen, we as people need to change first.


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