The article below talks about a lesser known psychoanalyst and observational philosopher, Erik Erikson, and his thinking. Self-invention takes a lifetime (8 min read)
- Primarily, his work focused on disproving the established school of thought of his time (mid-20th century), that “By the age of 30, most people’s character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.” He espoused that although people don’t change dramatically beyond childhood, they do pay attention to the challenges of life and find the psychological stance that favors growth over inertia.
- In his work, he talks about the identity crises that people face on a societal and individual level and espouses that “people who can’t make the various elements of their identity cohere, will face trouble.”
- While the article initially resonated with me on a deep personal level, I also couldn’t help noticing a striking similarity in its relevance to brands and brand identity.
Similar to people, if the initial stages of a brand are all about gauging and gaining the trust of their audience, as brands grow, they may strive to redefine themselves by responding to the existing cultural or social outlook of their times. Taking a side or taking a stand has become a rallying cry of our generation and whether by choice or by force, brands are jumping into the arena and doing just that. Additionally, extrapolating advertising, it reinforces what I have always heard at SOUND—positioning is not always permanent and should be revisited when the customer need, insight, or market dynamics shift significantly.
“And don’t forget your identity is in constant transaction with the society.”
The 2018 Edelman Earned Brands Report found that, in 2017, 1 in 2 people were belief-driven buyers. In other words, they choose, switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. The report also highlighted that only a minority of consumers are spectators (people who rarely buy based on belief). Among the 64% of belief-driven buyers, 30% are leaders who harbor strong passionate beliefs and 34% are joiners who are willing to change their buying behavior, based on the brand’s stand. They found these aphorisms held true across the globe. It turns out, countries like China, Brazil, India, and France have a higher percentage of belief-based buyers than the US. The writing in the sand is that consumers now are buying more than the brand itself—they are buying the values.
Brands can get political as they embrace a worldview on social issues or choose to steer clear and focus on the topic at hand with the aim of galvanizing a change in behavior. Patagonia’s “The President Stole Your Land” campaign, following the announcement of reduced sizes of protected land in the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, although confrontational, was an effort to publicize the brand’s position. Given that the spotlight on environmental conservatism has always been a key identity of the brand, their target audience was receptive to the message. Besides a new web page that conveyed the brand’s indignation, the company provided resources to education on public lands and guidance to visitors looking to chip in to support the grassroots environmental efforts undertaken by the company.
Ben and Jerry’s “Save our Swirled” campaign wanted to highlight the company’s stance on climate change—“if it’s melted, it’s ruined.” The company did not stop at the witty metaphor of melted ice cream and went on to throw their weight behind a full-scale movement. This included showcasing a list of endangered flavors on their website that would be at the mercy of climate change’s effects on global farming patterns, an emissions-free road tour to voice their commitment to the cause, a grassroots drive to garner support for a petition demanding action from the United Nations, a pledge to lower their carbon footprint to mitigate the backlash on the dairy industry’s role in climate change, revelation of a line of vegan/non-dairy flavors, and a video underscoring the seriousness of this movement.
Brands going from zero to activism though are looked upon with skepticism or even contempt. When brands clearly articulate their purpose and build their stance by connecting to a relevant moment in culture, they come across as more authentic and credible. At this point, by emphasizing their sustained commitment, these brands could potentially take on an activist’s role. They may be considered ‘qualified’ to engage a controversial issue that could directly or subtly have significant social ramifications.
In this environment, not taking a stand may be more dangerous than choosing one.
It is to be noted that brands that have chosen to do this have an intimate understanding of their core customer. They have accepted that showing that the brand shares values with their base will actually lead to increased purchasing behavior in the core segment even if some others who are not in the core get turned off.
Country Time Lemonade’s “Legalade” campaign is a good example of how to do this well without seeming opportunistic. As long as the activism is tied to the core promise of what the brand and customers strongly believe in, it’s okay to take a stance.
Gillette’s recent attempt at redefining masculinity in the age of #metoo, with its “The best a man can get” campaign, has faced criticism from different groups for various reasons. While the message of the ad that decried the notions of masculinity and not men was the center of a heated debate that spans historical, political, and capitalist points of view, Gillette defended its stance and has committed to donating $1 million to programs that help the next generation with strong male role models who inspire accountability. The backlash that seems to be on point is that the campaign doesn’t link strongly enough to the brand. Much of the criticism in this regard is aimed at the adoption of a feminist rhetoric that does not fit with the overall brand identity or history.
The best a man can get (5 min read)