Brand activism: why companies should think twice before practicing it

Brand activism: why companies should think twice before practicing it
People have always cared about what brands stand for, but the pandemic has made a brand’s social values even more important to consumers. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 30 November 2022

Brand activism: why companies should think twice before practicing it

Brand activism: why companies should think twice before practicing it
  • From missing cultural nuances in the Arab world to targeting women, here’s how products can lose popularity
  • Audi, Pfizer, General Mills, and Volkswagen are among some of the biggest brands to pause ads over concerns about brand safety and content moderation

DUBAI: The last two years have seen consumers go from #BrandLove to #Boycott in a matter of seconds. People have always cared about what brands stand for, but the pandemic has made a brand’s social values even more important to consumers.
Last year, ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s announced it would stop selling its products in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The decision prompted both praise and hate online, with some consumers accusing the business of antisemitism. Either way, Ben and Jerry’s was very much in the public eye.
“Ben and Jerry’s has a very long history of political positioning and commitment to a variety of progressive causes,” Robert Haigh, strategy and insights director at Brand Finance, told Arab News, in a separate interview.
Some 48 percent globally said that brands’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic affected their brand choices, and 41 percent in 14 countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, said they are boycotting brands still doing business in or with Russia, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer.
Moreover, the report also found that more than 80 percent of Gen Zs buy based on beliefs.
In March, users took to social media to call out big brands that continued to operate in Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, resulting in hashtags such as #BoycottCocaCola and #BoycottPepsi, among others, trending on Twitter.
Most recently, advertisers have paused, or at least dramatically reduced, their advertising spend on Twitter following Elon Musk’s takeover of the company.
Audi, Pfizer, General Mills, and Volkswagen are among some of the biggest brands to pause ads over concerns about brand safety and content moderation.
Nonprofits organizations such as the US-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have issued statements calling on advertisers to take action.
Following Musk’s possible reinstatement of former US President Donald Trump, President and CEO of the NAACP Derrick Johnson said: “Any advertiser still funding Twitter should immediately pause all advertising now.”
 


Earlier this month, too, the NAACP issued a statement asking advertisers to pause all advertising on Twitter.
“It is immoral, dangerous, and highly destructive to our democracy for any advertiser to fund a platform that fuels hate speech, election denialism, and conspiracy theories,” the statement said.
It added: “Unlike Elon Musk’s past ventures, this one should not be rocket science.”
“Consumers want to build a relationship with purposeful and belief-driven brands, meaning that they want to buy from a brand that shares their values and beliefs,” Ahmad Abu Zannad, author of books like “Adman vs. Chomsky” and “De-Commoditizing the Ad Industry,” and founder of Native Communications, an advisory firm dedicated to helping brands find a “native” role in people’s lives, told Arab News.
Enter brand activism, the new frontier of corporate social responsibility.
“Brand activism is a relatively new practice, and often we are seeing brands misunderstanding its purpose and misusing it by taking a divisive sociopolitical stand,” said Abu Zannad.
As beneficial as brand activism can be, it can also backfire if brands aren’t careful. A 2021 GfK report found that while 75 percent noticed examples of companies being a force for good during the coronavirus crisis, an overwhelming 78 percent noticed examples of companies trying to take advantage.
Consumers feel like brands are pandering, virtue signaling or worse, taking advantage of the crisis to sell.
Abu Zannad, too, warned: “There are traps that brands need to be wary of, specifically in a region like the Arab world.”
Arab News spoke to Abu Zannad to learn more about what brands should be wary of when practicing brand activism.
There are three traps to watch out for, he said: brands do not go to heaven; cultures differ vastly; and some relationships are better kept light.
He added: “There’s no such thing as a purely selfless brand that is taking an action or a stand for a greater good beyond the business.”
Research by Razorfish and Vice Media showed that 2 out of 3 consumers have become cynical toward such initiatives, and less than half of consumers believe that brands are living their stated purpose.
“Brands need to stand for something before taking a stand,” Abu Zannad said.
For example, Dove often tackles conventional ideas of beauty through its campaigns. As a personal care brand, the topic is relevant to both the business and the consumer.
On the other hand, a beverage brand decided to tackle the issue of the gender pay gap in the UK by offering their drink at a 20 percent discount to women — reflecting the approximate pay gap between salaries for men and women.
The brand also repackaged the drinks in pink.
The stunt drew a massive backlash with many calling it a gimmick and accusing the brand of patronizing women and trying to capture the female consumer segment.
Similarly, Nike’s brand purpose is centered around encouraging people to push their limits and “just do it.”
In 2016, athlete Colin Kaepernick took the knee during the national anthem as a stand against racial police brutality. Nike supported him by releasing an advert with the message: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Although the campaign generated a lot of controversy, Nike’s stocks rose by 5 percent in the weeks after the ad was released.
“There is a very large constituency of people for whom the Nike brand was re-energized” as it aligned itself with a younger, more progressive audience, Haigh previously said.
“The brand did not discuss its own personal take on the controversy; it showcased how Nike’s general beliefs and purpose are aligned with those of Kaepernick,” Abu Zannad said.
The second factor for brands to keep in mind is cultural differences across the world.
For example, Disney and Pixar’s movie “Lightyear,” which was slated for a June 16 release, was banned in the UAE — one of the most liberal countries in the Arab world — over content, including a same-sex intimate scene.
Around 14 other countries across the Middle East and Asia, including Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and Malaysia, have also banned the film.
On the other hand, Dove often localizes its campaigns based on cultural insight. In India, for example, the brand found that 3 out of 4 women are rejected for their looks during the arranged marriage process. So, it launched the “StopTheBeautyTest” campaign, encouraging women who have faced rejection to share their stories.
Lastly, Abu Zannad said, some relationships are better kept light.
In his book “How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know,” Prof. Byron Sharp applied years of statistical analysis of sales data to demonstrate that the majority of a brand’s business comes from what he refers to as “light buyers” — those who do not buy the brand very often and are enjoying a light and casual relationship with it.
“Such light buyers would still like to admire that brand for its beliefs,” Abu Zannad said.
He pointed out brands like Adidas and Nike, which encourage Arab women to exercise more often through empowering initiatives and messaging that challenges cultural notions that may be keeping them away from participating in activities.
However, they keep the messaging within the parameters of sport and do not engage in intense, political, or divisive stands.
Nike’s “What Will They Say About You?” film urges women to think about what people will say about them when they are playing sport.

 


Similarly, Adidas’ “Beyond the Surface” and “Liquid Billboard” campaigns encourage women to feel comfortable in their skin. The latter, which marked the launch of Adidas’ inclusive swimwear collection, was based on the insight that globally 32 percent of women are uncomfortable swimming in public, and in the Middle East the proportion rises to 88 percent.
Adidas, therefore, created the world’s first “swimmable billboard” in Dubai, which encouraged women to dive in, regardless of body shape, ethnicity or ability.
Whether it is being inclusive or challenging conventional ideas of beauty, a brand’s purpose must be aligned with its business and consumers.
Abu Zannad said: “A brand purpose is not a tool for a brand to be selfless; it is there for the brand to serve its audiences, its community, and consequently, its business.”

 

 


Twitter scrambles to fix meltdown as many unable to tweet

Twitter scrambles to fix meltdown as many unable to tweet
Updated 1 min 3 sec ago

Twitter scrambles to fix meltdown as many unable to tweet

Twitter scrambles to fix meltdown as many unable to tweet
  • Users first noticed the problem when they tried to send tweets and received a message saying they had reached their “tweet limit”

Many Twitter users found themselves unable to tweet, follow accounts or access their direct messages on Wednesday as the Elon Musk-owned platform experienced a slew of widespread technical problems.
“Twitter may not be working as expected for some of you. Sorry for the trouble. We’re aware and working to get this fixed,” the company tweeted from its “support” account.
Further details were unavailable Wednesday afternoon and an email seeking comment from the company’s press account went unanswered. Twitter has dissolved its media relations team.
Users first noticed the problem when they tried to send tweets and received a message saying they had reached their “tweet limit.”
While Twitter has for years limited the number of tweets an account can send, it is 2,400 per day — or 100 an hour — far more than most regular, human-run accounts send on the platform.
Accounts also had trouble when they tried to follow another Twitter user, getting a message “You are unable to follow more people at this time” with a link to the company’s policy on follow limits.
Twitter’s long-standing limit on how many accounts a single user can follow in a single day is 400 — again, more than a regular Twitter user would generally reach on any given day.
It is not clear what caused Wednesday’s meltdown, but Twitter engineers and experts have been warning that the platform is at an increased risk of fraying since Musk fired most of the people who worked on keeping it running.
Already in November, engineers who left Twitter described for The Associated Press why they expect considerable unpleasantness for Twitter’s more than 230 million users now that well over two-thirds of Twitter’s pre-Musk core services engineers are apparently gone.
While they don’t anticipate near-term collapse, the engineers said Twitter could get very rough at the edges — especially if Musk makes major changes without much off-platform testing.
One Twitter engineer, who had worked in core services, told the AP in November that engineering team clusters were down from about 15 people pre-Musk — not including team leaders, who were all laid off — to three or four before even more resignations.
Then more institutional knowledge that can’t be replaced overnight walked out the door.
“Everything could break,” the programmer said.


Backlash for Charlie Hebdo cartoon mocking Turkiye earthquake

Backlash for Charlie Hebdo cartoon mocking Turkiye earthquake
Updated 09 February 2023

Backlash for Charlie Hebdo cartoon mocking Turkiye earthquake

Backlash for Charlie Hebdo cartoon mocking Turkiye earthquake
  • The magazine shared on the day of the quake a drawing gloating over the death of thousands
  • Commentators described the cartoon as "racist" and "vile"

LONDON: A cartoon scoffing at the deadly earthquake that has killed more than 11,000 people in Turkiye and Syria has received a severe backlash online for its insensitivity.

French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon captioned “drawing of the day” and showing collapsed buildings and piles of rubble with “earthquake in Turkiye” written on top and “no need to send tanks” at the bottom, sparking outrage on social media as well as criticism from journalists.

Many deemed the cartoon “racist” and “vile,” condemning it for mocking the pain of thousands of innocent victims.

“Just vile, racist, and immensely insensitive,” tweeted Islamophobia scholar Khaled Beydoun.

“It is really disgusting to make fun of the suffering of others and far from the ethics of journalism, assuming it sticks to it, and I doubt it,” wrote Abdulla Al-Amadi in a tweet.

Lebanese journalist Giselle Khoury described the cartoon as “shameful,” demanding the magazine explain how this constituted “freedom of expression.”

Rana Abi Jomaa, also a Lebanese journalist, wrote that “there are no limits to Charlie Hebdo’s racism,” wondering “who would defend this abhorrent satirical French magazine after today?”

“Charlie Hebdo is faithful to its famous hate speech, bigotry, mediocre unethical journalism and colonialist scorn,” wrote Tunisian journalist Mourad Teyeb. “Nothing to do with press freedom!”

Khalil Rammal, on social media, denounced the magazine’s “racist” cartoon, namely for “gloating over” the tragedy of thousands.

Challenging the outrageous cartoon, Ouissal Harize shared a video of a rescued toddler who lost his family in the catastrophe, and wrote: “This is the tragedy you are mocking.” 

Another user, Shireen Mazari, wrote: “Hatred and Islamophobia at its peak when a natural disaster draws this kind of reaction from Charlie Hebdo! Sickening to the core.”

Commentators recounted the Jan. 7, 2015, attack on Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters in Paris, reminding the magazine of its demand for global support under the slogan “Je suis Charlie.”

“Mocking a natural disaster with the death of thousands and the complete destruction of infrastructure in an already fragile state with ‘didn't even need to send tanks’ is everything I need to know about ‘Je suis Charlie.’ Inhumane,” wrote Twitter user Yasmeen.

Political analyst Oznur Sirene reminded the magazine of how many Turks showed solidarity following the 2015 attack, only to be rewarded with mockery.

“Today you dare mock the suffering of an entire people,” she wrote. “One must really have some nerve to do this while there are still babies waiting to be rescued.”

Others condemned the magazine for “having a history of mocking victims of catastrophe,” with several resharing the cartoon that made fun of Italy’s earthquake in 2016.

Charlie Hebdo received a backlash for a cartoon it shared in September 2016 mocking the victims of the 6.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Italy at the time. Shortly after, the magazine shared another cartoon demonizing critics.

In January 2016 the magazine published a cartoon making fun of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian child whose body was found on a Greek beach in 2015. 

People in Turkiye and Syria woke up on Monday to a deadly magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which killed more than 11,000 people, according to CNN, and destroyed thousands of buildings.

Syria’s devastated infrastructure and freezing weather conditions are obstructing rescue operations, which have been ongoing since the disaster struck.


Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye

Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye
Updated 08 February 2023

Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye

Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye
  • Platform has been widely used to seek help and establish personal contact
  • Turkish authorities have limited access to social media during previous national emergencies

LONDON: Twitter is facing restrictions in Turkiye as the country struggles to deal with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, sources reported.

Independent global internet monitor NetBlocks confirmed that the social media platform has been restricted on multiple network providers, including TTNet and Turkcell, on Wednesday.

“Real-time network data show Twitter has been restricted in Turkiye,” Netblocks said in a tweet.

“The filtering is applied on major internet providers and comes as the public come to rely on the service in the aftermath of a series of deadly earthquakes.”

Twitter is widely adopted in the country and its restriction disrupts critical communication for rescue efforts.

NetBlocks Director Alp Toker said that this is the first time the company detected social media restrictions during a natural disaster.

“Twitter has been in use extensively in the aftermath of the earthquakes, both to seek assistance and rescue equipment and by those trying to get back in touch with loved ones,” Toker said.

Turkish authorities have not given any formal explanations, but NetBlocks said that Turkiye often acts to prevent alleged disinformation during national emergencies.

In November, following a terrorist attack in central Istanbul that killed six people and injured more than 80, authorities imposed a 10-hour social media ban.

Some users also reported that TikTok might have been affected by the restrictions.

In a statement, the video-sharing app said it was aware of the technical difficulties and is “investigating the matter and hope access is restored as soon as possible as platforms like TikTok remain a critical way to stay in touch during crises.”

NetBlocks and some Twitter users have reported that users in Turkiye can still access the platforms through VPNs.


Dubai Lynx launches Young Lynx Academy in partnership with Publicis Groupe

Dubai Lynx launches Young Lynx Academy in partnership with Publicis Groupe
Updated 08 February 2023

Dubai Lynx launches Young Lynx Academy in partnership with Publicis Groupe

Dubai Lynx launches Young Lynx Academy in partnership with Publicis Groupe
  • Hosted over 3 days, program will feature keynote talks, workshops, competition
  • Dubai Lynx festival director Thea Skelton: We are seeing an increasing number of agencies from KSA enter and win at Dubai Lynx

DUBAI: The Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity has launched the Young Lynx Academy in partnership with multinational advertising company Publicis Groupe.

Aimed at mentoring young professionals in the Middle East and North Africa region, the academy will run from March 12 to 14.

Thea Skelton, festival director of Dubai Lynx, told Arab News: “As we know, the region is using creativity as a driving force for growth.

“We are seeing an increasing number of agencies from KSA enter and win at Dubai Lynx and it’s very exciting for us to watch young talent from the Kingdom grow.”

The academy is designed to support young talent within the creative communications sector by offering them a free mentorship opportunity.

Hosted over three days, the program will include keynote talks, workshops, and a 24-hour hack competition involving participants working on a charity brief.

Skelton said: “Creativity is a key part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, and the training and development of young people in this sector is very much a part of this.

“We’re excited to see how young creatives from Saudi Arabia will perform this year and pave the way for many more people from the region to excel,” she added.

The academy will be open to professionals aged 30 or younger who have worked for a minimum of one year in the creative, media, digital, or social sectors in the MENA region. Successful applicants will also receive tickets to attend the festival and Lynx party on March 14.

The deadline for entries is Feb. 27. More details are available on the Young Lynx Academy website at https://www.dubailynx.com/talent-and-training/young-lynx-academy


Meta, nonprofit end US lawsuit over infinity-logo trademark

Meta, nonprofit end US lawsuit over infinity-logo trademark
Updated 08 February 2023

Meta, nonprofit end US lawsuit over infinity-logo trademark

Meta, nonprofit end US lawsuit over infinity-logo trademark
  • Lawsuit by Dfinity Foundation said Meta would cause confusion with its infinity logo

LONDON: Meta Platforms Inc and blockchain nonprofit Dfinity Foundation have resolved Dfinity’s trademark lawsuit against Meta over its infinity-symbol logo, according to a joint filing in San Francisco federal court.

Meta and Dfinity asked the court Monday to dismiss the case with prejudice, which means it cannot be revived.

A Meta spokesperson said Tuesday that the company was “pleased with the outcome of the case.” It said Dfinity had dropped the lawsuit after Meta “pointed out the defects” in its revised complaint.

Representatives for Dfinity did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Switzerland-based Dfinity’s Internet Computer is an “infinite” public blockchain network designed to host smart contracts. Dfinity sued Meta last year, alleging the logo Meta adopted after changing its name from Facebook would cause confusion with Dfinity’s infinity-symbol trademarks.

Meta has described its logo as a “continuous loop” that resembles both the letter ‘M’ and an infinity sign to symbolize “infinite horizons in the metaverse.”

US District Judge Charles Breyer dismissed Dfinity’s original complaint in November but allowed the company to amend the lawsuit. Breyer said Meta’s logo was unlikely to cause consumer confusion, citing differences in the logos’ designs and the fact that Dfinity’s customers are “tech-savvy developers.”

Dfinity filed an amended complaint in December.

Meta is still facing trademark lawsuits from virtual-reality company MetaX and investment firm Metacapital over its name change.