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Make→Shift is part of TrendWatching's Free Trend Updates. Each monthly issue examines one cross-industry movement no brand can afford to ignore, answering 'why now' and spotlighting the opportunities brands can act on today.
All in a six-minute read.
Consumers expect brands to deliver on social justice commitments and are willing to call out companies and individuals when actions fail to live up to promises. And this internal and external accountability is the only route to real change. Purpose-driven brands committed to meaningful transformation are opening up conversations with advocacy groups and activists in order to make space for new voices in product development, campaign strategies, and beyond.
There’s a growing gap between brands’ promises and (in)action: consumers across the globe believe businesses should speak out on social/political issues (Ipsos, November 2021, but 71% have little faith brands will actually deliver on their value proposition. Besides, those values might look quite different depending on your location.
Cancel culture and social media are inextricably linked. The platforms give marginalized individuals a voice and can bring digital pasts into the present – with serious consequences. Many consumers will hold brands to account: 55% of US online consumers will boycott brands found to have unethical business practices (Forrester, January 2022).
Brands are eager to show they’re making internal progress on JEDI issues. Diversity leadership roles are on the rise, with some brands like McDonald’s and Nike tying executives’ bonuses to internal diversity targets. Meanwhile, some employees (hello, Disney) are leveraging their collective power to expedite progress. Another option is for brands to seek counsel from the people they claim to support, and actively involve them in the process. After all, activists and advocates are the experts that are already doing the work.
As part of broader digital inclusion initiatives, in February 2022, US-based Motorola introduced a new Cherokee interface. The brand worked with Cherokee leaders and linguistics experts to digitize 130,000 words, enabling consumers to navigate their mobile devices exclusively using the indigenous language. The company’s research and digital vocabulary will be accessible via Motorola’s open-source website for other professionals to use in technology projects and applications.
A survey by UK-based whisky brand Johnnie Walker found that 66% of Brazilian women have been harassed in bars, clubs, restaurants, or nightclubs. In response, it partnered with the charity Women Friendly to train 1,000 nightlife staff in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife in how to make spaces safer for women. The scheme launched in February 2022 with participating venues awarded a Women Friendly seal to indicate their zero-tolerance approach.
Having faced growing pressure to drop certain fossil fuel clients, in November 2021, the global PR firm Edelman announced Edelman Impact – a new initiative that sees the company work with climate activists to reduce its environmental footprint. Immediate actions include launching an assessment of Edelman’s client portfolio, establishing science and values-based criteria for client engagement, and creating a task force for internal climate conversations.
In March 2022, Munroe Bergdorf – the model and ambassador for France-based cosmetics brand, L’Oréal – headlined the Festival of Marketing: Transform, where she talked openly about how the brand has used its past errors to build a more inclusive company culture. In 2017, Bergdorf was fired as ambassador for comments made on social media about systemic racism, but was swiftly rehired in 2020 after accusing L’Oréal of hypocrisy for its public support of Black Lives Matter.
Working in close partnership with cultural advisor Anzac Tasker and local iwi (‘tribe’) Ngāti Whātua, in November 2021 Google announced its plan to design the company’s first official home in Aotearoa-New Zealand. True to Google’s reputation, among other impressive tech-enabled features, the space will include a digital ceiling where tableaux portraying the country’s land, heritage, and various native cultures, will be displayed throughout the day.
After a pregnant influencer was killed by a stray bullet during a favela raid in June 2021, Brazil-based fashion brand Farm launched a promo code in her honor. Naturally, the discount wasn’t well received. To rectify its mistake, Farm hosted 14 discussion groups with its 800 employees and, a week later, it publicly launched an action plan (with goals and deadlines) for tackling the company’s lack of social and racial diversity.
How well do you know your consumer base and the values that matter to them? Can you combine that knowledge with your brand reputation to inform the issues you engage with? Is the internal sign-off process for campaigns and products rigorous and diverse? If not, take steps to improve it. And respond quickly – inaction is a form of action.
Don’t just rely on a diverse internal workforce: Bring outsiders in, and ensure they’re remunerated for their counsel. Or, tighten up your traditional market research processes. NXTLAB is a ‘cultural navigator’ platform, comprising 10,000 opinion-makers who offer candid feedback on specific issues. Brands like Snapchat are already tapping into them.
Hold yourself to account. Despite being canceled for a 2017 spot featuring Black mothers, P&G clawed back its reputation by collaborating with community influencers on a series of highly empathetic campaigns, and a B2B guide to stamping out internal racism. What legacy will be left by your COUNSEL CULTURE innovation?
Editor's note: Brands need to be monitored continuously, as we recently learned P&G is still conducting business in Russia.
At TrendWatching, we track trends on various levels, from micro to macro, mega to meta. COUNSEL CULTURE sits under our POWER TO THE PEOPLE Mega-Trend, which is all about how consumers are using their collective power to expose social and ecological injustices.
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