It’s no secret that we like to feel good about ourselves.
Phrases like “fair trade” can boost sales and egos, and the anti-Trump movement is pretty smug about its giant list of retailers and other businesses that carry or support Trump products.
But when you realize this blacklist includes Amazon, you may be sorely tempted to get off your high horse and clamber back onto your well-worn Prime account. Free two-day shipping is hard to live without.
As we wrote, when Lyft responded to Trump’s immigration ban with a $1 million donation to the ACLU, #DeleteUber spread like wildfire and rideshare users patted themselves on the back for their conscious consumerism.
But all they did was trade in one convenience for another.
That’s the problem with the contemporary activism climate. When much of the activism and charitable giving is sourced through brands, all a consumer needs to do to engage with the issue is make a purchase.
There’s no real sacrifice – that fair trade coffee might be a dollar or two more, but you can afford it, and now you can count yourself solidly on the good guys’ side.
But when the decision to support a cause indirectly through a brand is a real inconvenience, as giving up Amazon would be for me, would that cause still see significant support?
This is a question consumers must ask themselves – and businesses may or may not adjust, according to the answer.
Hoping on the consumer-activism bandwagon
Regardless, the lesson in good business is there for everyone to see: activism sells, and fast.
More and more companies are going out their way to do good, but only if they can tell anyone who’ll listen how humanitarian they are.
This is not generosity for generosity’s sake.
Rather, this is a calculated business strategy that has recently been paying off big time.
And judging by the wave of grassroots activism sweeping through the country in the wake of Trump’s election, consumers will be in the mood to support activist brands for quite a while.
So how can your brand or organization ride the wave? Here’s an example of what NOT to do:
SNL knows what’s up. If you’re a snack brand with no connection to transgender issues, don’t try to suddenly turn your mascot into a transgender hero.
If your workforce is 5 percent women, spicing up your ads with demands for women’s rights misses the mark.
Exploitation is highly likely to backfire – social media whistleblowers are ramping up their outrage.
Follow your heart, not consumer reports
However, it certainly wasn’t evil for Lyft to (very publicly) donate money to a cause relevant to their business. They’re a company partially powered by immigrants, and they sent a lot of money to a good place.
If your business naturally lends itself to the support of a cause, like wage equality or workforce diversity, you have more options.
You can also strategically use activism in your ads – but anything even faintly reminiscent of exploitation is an absolute no-no. If you’re going to incorporate activism into your organization, it should be nothing but natural and sincere.