Activist Marketing. It’s everywhere.
Take, for instance, the feminist tee.
One end of the spectrum includes cheap ‘Feminist’ t-shirts from fast fashion brands, in which the labor behind the tee is overseas female garment workers being paid cents to the hour in slave-like working conditions.
See left: First, there was green-washing. Now, there is revolution-washing. H&M’s newest ‘The Revolution is Female’ t-shirt, to distract attention from their sweatshop labor… How about a revolution for workers’ rights?
The luxe end of the spectrum features several hundred dollar Feminists t-shirts; take, for instance, Dior’s $700 dollar ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ t-shirt, to Prabal Gurung’s NYFW collection showcasing an array of feminist message t-shirts, sported by a line of mostly white models.
See below: Clip from Prabal Gurung’s NYFW collection. Unfortunately, if your feminism isn’t intersectional, it tends to look more like white supremacy.
So, what does it all mean?
In marketing, it’s no longer just sex that sells. Activism does.
But in strategy, are they one in the same?
Marketing is rooted in aspirational identity; the goal is, more often than not, to make the consumer feel like your product is the item needed to be accepted by society, to be their best self.
Couple that in an age of the hashtag, where new hashtags highlighting a new cause or issue are arising left and right.
Social media has undoubtedly become the biggest domains for marketing, but also activism— what happens when you combine the two?
Beware: when intention is rooted in commerce but is presented as social justice, the Internet is watching.
Simply paying lip service to issues like the environment to workers rights will be more and more difficult to get away with.
Take, for instance… Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial.
This commercial was the manifestation of corporate America trying to combine all elements of ‘what is in.’ Kendall Jenner frames the continuation of traditional standards of beauty: a young, white woman completes her modeling gig only to come across a protest— one that she shuts down by handing a police officer a Pepsi, followed by a crowd bursting in cheers.
Or in other words, visual proof that protesting police brutality, death and injustice could now be “re-branded” by way of big name corporations and celebrity culture.
But Kendall Jenner’s genes shouldn’t be enough to sell anymore.
Don’t get me wrong; dialogue is important.
It’s great that these issues are finally intersecting with ‘mainstream’ channels, but it must be more than just an opportunity to become relevant and cash out.
Connect it to action.
If you’re preaching feminism, let that feminism be intersectional— present diversity with more than just a cosmetic role.
If you’re preaching feminism, let that feminism be transnational— fight for rights workers overseas to access to living wage and ethical working conditions.
Don’t hide behind a cause.
If you’re adding to the dialogue, be inclusive in your progressivism— or opportunism, that is.