How We Know When a Brand Is Full of It

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The lines between commerce and activism get blurrier every year, for good and for ill. We like to know that our hard-earned cash is going toward something we believe in, even beyond our favorite ice cream or ethically sourced footwear. That means we can smell it a mile away when a brand tries to scam us with morality it won't back up.


Marketing researchers in the U.K. have just released a study about so-called brand activism; think of Starbucks taking a position on a political movement or Nike speaking out about human rights abuses. Consumers have a sense almost immediately as to whether these brands are just capitalizing on public sentiment or aesthetics, rather than authentically backing a grassroots campaign — think of Kylie Jenner's misplaced Pepsi ad set amid protests against police brutality.

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The research team thinks we can break down our responses to such ad campaigns along three axes: whether it's morally sensitive, whether it shows a clear moral vision, and whether the brand is morally consistent. Nobody wants to buy into hypocrisy. Of course, we're also not always the best at spotting authenticity, or at digging deeper into structural problems within a product or industry.


That said, we do care about our ethical supply chains, and many consumers are generally willing to put their money where their mouth is. If you're buyer, this is why you react so strongly to ad campaigns. And if you're a seller of any kind, make sure you mean what you say when you say it out loud.