by Tenielle Maris. It seems that brands are under the magnifying glass now, more so than ever before, but the question is why now?

We had barely made it into the new year when the H&M crisis and subsequent social outcry became a reminder of the evolving expectations from consumers across the globe. 2017 was a year awash with PR nightmares for brands that failed to show an understanding of diversity and equal rights, making it glaringly obvious that ignorance and insensitivity plague our industry.

Why now?

On stage for the world to see

For the longest time, consumerism has been viewed as an extension of one’s identity. Today, social media is inextricably linked to identity, playing a paramount role in moulding the way in which consumers perceive the world and themselves: it’s the stage for one’s choices and values to be dissected, discussed and ridiculed by others.

This is no different for brands trying to connect with audiences by portraying a certain image and standing for a particular set of values: as consumers decide whom to listen to, by evaluating what a brand stands for and the relevance in their lives, they hold the power in determining the social worthiness of your brand.

Rise of woke consumerism

Mindful consumerism is evolving at neck-breaking speed as consumers demand brands that reflect their own values. According to Peter Duran’s book, A Political Economy of Mindfulness, Attention and Consumerism, consciousness is evolving: the emphasis is no longer on collective consciousness alone but also on one’s individual consciousness.

This movement towards becoming a more-conscious human being extends beyond the ever-growing adoption of more sustainable and good-for-you products, and into a realm of always-on, hyper-awareness of social and political matters.

Recent surveys reveal that consumers actually want brands to have a say in bigger issues: two-thirds of consumers feel it’s important for brands to use their influence to help shape social and political discussions.

It’s clear that consumers want brands to have a voice but there may very well be enormous ramifications if a brand fails to demonstrate the type of values that are deemed socially awake — or woke — by its audience.

The bigger picture

Among some of the greatest advertising blunders, we have also seen some truly meaningful campaigns from brands addressing big societal issues regarding race, gender, sexuality, religion and disability.

Beyond a campaign, Nike’s BETRUE collection has made waves, with content and products that serve as tangible proof that Nike puts its money where its mouth is. L’Oreal’s True Match campaign was just the start to tackling diversity head-on, and has paved the way for long-standing partnerships to mentor young adults on building confidence in the face of diversity.

What these brands demonstrate is that it takes more than acknowledging inequality and discrimination through a campaign: rather being socially awake needs to be engrained in a brand’s DNA and authentically woven into that brand’s story for the rest of the world to see.

Getting it right

If brands want to get it right, they need to do what it takes to ensure that they are walking in the shoes of a diverse bunch of socially aware consumers and that they portray those insights in the most-authentic way possible.

If you don’t truly understand the issues you are dealing with, and if you are doing it more for the financial gain and less about really standing up for a cause, it will show — and you can bet your bottom dollar that you are going to be called to task on it.


Tenielle MarisTenielle Maris is strategic director at TTL agency, 34°, in Johannesburg. Beginning her career in branding and communications, she has spent the last decade in the marketing industry where she has worked upon big brands spanning the African continent. Having found her passion in understanding what drives human beings to connect with particular brands, her time is spent getting up close and personal with the people whom brands are trying to connect with. Tenielle contributes the monthly “Headspace” column, which unpacks anything and everything that helps marketers and advertisers understand why people connect with brands, to

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