Marketing Guidelines to Social Movements

Mike Worrell

By: Mike Worrell

In the first half of 2020 the US has experienced a striking change in everyday life. From the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, the recession, and fears of growing military tension between the US and Iran ⁠— the current national atmosphere has been one of anxiety and uncertainty. While so many people shelter-in-place, social media has become a frequent destination to stay in touch with loved ones and express opinions on current events. It is in these times that brands should be mindful of social media platforms’ original purpose. Facebook and Twitter are not just efficient tools to reach potential customers, they are forums for people to share and discuss opinions, and to stay informed, or connect with the world around them. This increase in time spent on social media also presents opportunities for marketers to engage users. Brands must consider their campaigns holistically prior to making a call on how best to respond or not respond to global events.

How are these issues affecting our Audience?

A popular marketing adage states ‘always start with the people’. This axiom is even more relevant during social movements. When crafting a brand’s response strategy, make sure to ask yourself questions related to your audience; are the central issues of the social movement important to the people who purchase your products? Do these issues affect our customers and are we supporting the people who have made our business successful?

In many cases, assessing whether or not a response from a brand is warranted or could be seen as ‘tone-deaf’ could be negatively interpreted by the customer your brand was attempting to support. These recognitions make it very important to get several opinions, both internally and among your brand’s supporters, on your brand’s stance before announcing it publicly, and even workshopping your response with members of the community to ensure your brand is being respectful.

always start with the people

Are these issues relevant to our Brand Personality & Values?

Brands should not view social movements as quick ways to score points with consumers. Brands taking a stand on a social issue for easy brand awareness often find themselves the target of cynicism and negative sentiment. Dedicating your brand to support a social cause should be something that remains a core value to the brand long after the social movement isn’t the predominant news story. Some brands, due to their products, brand values, or proximity to a social cause, have engrained values that allow them to speak with authority on specific social issues. For older brands, it’s important to examine your brand’s history around the issue and acknowledge any shortcomings of the brand in the past. As brands strive to be more authentic, sweeping away uncomfortable stances in your brand’s history often alienates and reflects poorly on the brands.

nike quote

In what Environment will the ad appear?

Even with the best intentions, brands must consider the environment in which their message exists is a key component of how it will be interpreted. It is important to remember that social media was not created to sell and market products. These platforms gained their popularity because they are central hubs of conversations and public discussion. Brands that advertise on these platforms may find their content appearing alongside opinions or content where users are not open to commercial messaging. While sites like LinkedIn and Pinterest aren’t epicenters of social discussion, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are often used to convey news updates, political opinions, and at times to organize public demonstrations. On Tuesday 6/1, social media users showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement by sharing black squares to help amplify the message of social justice for African Americans. Brands who did not pause messaging during #BlackOutTuesday were juxtaposed with timely stories about the protests and appeared out-of-touch or worse, insensitive.


What message are we communicating?

Brands must ask themselves ‘is the message and context of this ad relevant to the social movement?’ During the COVID-19 pandemic, several brands pivoted their messaging to feature Americans wearing protective masks and spreading messaging of unity and perseverance as the world sheltered-in-place. The messages showed relevance and deftness in addressing the struggles and pressures the virus had placed on everyday life. These ads were very successful, showing audiences their new normal was being reflected in the content and features actions that companies were taking to address customer concerns. Conversely, messages that ignore prominent social movements may be interpreted as ignoring the prevalent issues and detracting from their relevance.


No one can predict the challenges Americans will confront in the future but it’s important to remember that we’re all facing these challenges together. While there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to crafting a respectful and sensitive message, the above guidelines should serve as a strong starting point to evaluate how your brand should respond to future social movements.

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