What Can Brands Learn From Activist Organisations?

  • 1 month ago
  • 6 Minutes to Read

Over the last week, we’ve been getting stuck in with the protests at COP26 as thousands took over the city to demand action.

This has also got us thinking about the role of activist brands in inspiring genuine climate action.

In the last few years, we’ve seen protests ramping up all over the world. From climate strikes, the BLM movement to women’s marches, many of these have led to behaviour change and progressive legislation. So, as brands escalate their purpose-driven campaigns around COP26, what can they learn from protests and activist organisations when it comes to making an impact, long after the dust on Glasgow has settled?


As people become more engaged in social activism, many are looking to brands to join them in standing up for a cause greater than their profits. Often, when a brand speaks out, its community will follow. Just look at our friends over at Surfers Against Sewage, they’re no strangers to eye-catching protests and bold campaigning and their latest ‘End Sewage Pollution’ campaign resulted in ​​130 MPs supporting a sewage bill, which has put pressure on the government to take action. 

It’s clear that activism and protest is an amazing way for brands and businesses to further their cause. Many choose lobbying, donating money, volunteering or making bold statements through their marketing campaigns. Yet, to ensure this is authentic it’s vital that purpose is at the core. This purpose is what defines why your brand is taking a stand and showcases what you’re going to do to tackle these issues. Ultimately, it provides the foundation for credible, relevant, inspiring, and impactful action. 

When done correctly, brands have the tools to elevate the conversation and amplify the voices of grassroots organisations. Whether it’s graphic design, video or the language used by a brand, an activist tone can be crucial in spreading the message of a movement far outside of the echo chamber. 

However, activism is not a campaign idea. It needs to be driven by a fundamental belief that things need to change, and this might not always follow the traditional roadmap for business. So what can brands and businesses learn from activist organisations and how can they ensure this is authentic? 

Listen and Learn

Get activists into your organisation (and pay them to be there!) to listen and learn from them, connect with small NGOs and engage with their networks. By collaborating with people who are already fighting the good fight you’ll be able to amplify their messages and ensure authenticity. (Listen here to our ‘Shifting The Narrative’ brand activism episode with Lauren MacCallum from Protect Our Winters for more insights on this!)


Pick one thing

If there’s one thing we’ve seen at COP26 it’s that sustainability is a complex issue. With so many issues intertwined, it can be daunting to know where to start. The most successful activist brands are those who have chosen one thing to stand for. Take Tony’s Chocolonely… their whole purpose is built on making all chocolate slave-free, Rubies In The Rubble is built on fighting food waste and Patagonia is committed to fighting overconsumption. 


Clear calls to action 

It’s no good campaigning for something if your community doesn’t know how to help or get involved. Make sure your communications have clear calls to action to let people know what you’re fighting for and how they can take action. 


Include diverse voices 

Often the most impactful element of a protest is the diverse range of voices who come together united. Use your brand to amplify these voices and include the stories and vision of underrepresented communities. Not only is this vital for understanding the whole picture, but it will also help you reach outside the echo chamber. 


Engage your employees

Activist communications will only be successful if they’re genuine, and this means getting your employees engaged and on board. At Enviral we believe that sustainability starts with communicating your purpose internally and this goes a long way in showing true dedication to a cause. 


Keep it simple 

The best activist brands keep their language simple and pragmatic. Don’t overcomplicate it. Flip complex science-based messages into language that your community uses to bring them along with your journey and ensure genuine cut-through. 


Be creative 

Creativity is a huge part of activism. From eye-catching design to creative campaigns, being an activist brand means thinking outside of the box to grab people’s attention and stand up for your cause. 


The really tricky part in today’s politically charged world is making sure your brand is seen as authentic in its activism. So before you grab your placards, it’s important to ask yourself if you’re doing it for the right reasons. 


Written by