Cross-Brand Activism: The Way Forward

How can companies amplify the impact of brand activism activities?

We’ve been exploring this question since we wrote Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action and the solution seems obvious: cross-brand activism.

Let’s define cross-brand activism as follows: brand activism that is collaborative or collective, extending across various businesses.

Cross-brand activism is not as difficult as it may seem. In the book, we mention how businesses use cross-brand activism for regressive purposes – for example: ALEC. Since the mid-70s, the American Legislative Exchange Council has been and continues to be a regressive activist, advocating for policies leading to voter suppression, “shoot to kill” laws, and anti-environmental legislation, to name just a few of its shameful activities.

But what about progressive cross-brand activism?

A handful of organizations come to mind: the 1% for the Planet movement, or the Rainforest Alliance, for example.

The Four Levels of Activation

Where is our sense of urgency? COVID shows us just how fragile our economic systems are. And COVID is just a warning. How can companies come together to start making real change possible? What does a cross-brand platform of purpose look like?

Our model of cross brand activism describes four levels of activation:

  • CEO Activation
    How do you bring CEOs together to make a difference? Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever, is working on cross-brand activism through IMAGINE – to activate “collectives of CEOs in key sectors, putting the ‘system in the room’ across the full value chain to tale bold stands on climate, plastics, and human rights.” Note: according to Polman, “it can take only 20 CEOs – whose names we know – to tip an entire industry.”
  • Employee Activation
    What happens when employees, across an industry, are activated to work on the common good? In our book we discuss the impact on employee engagement: a majority of employees, particularly Millennials, believe that they are right to speak up for or against their employers when it comes to hot-button issues that impact society. Employees believe they can make a greater impact than business leaders can. 
  • Customer Activation
    This promises to be the most powerful and impactful form of brand activism, because it enlists your customers to participate in direct action. The internet of purpose (IoP) is an idea whose time has come. What if the two or three leaders in a market got together and activated their customers to work on shared projects for the common good?
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  • Community Activation
    The goal in all brand activism is to shift societal mindsets. We feel there is far more companies can do to improve society by working to harness the organic movements that exist in the world, along with the NGOs, enlightened public officials, governments, and other institutions. Community activation is what gave us the movements that changed the world, from the Civil Rights movement, the anti-nuke movement in Europe, Black Lives Matter, and the Fridays for Future.

Where Should We Begin?

So where should we begin? We can start by asking two of the most powerful marketing organizations in the world to join forces, and bring their friends.

Specifically, we’d like to see Unilever and Procter & Gamble join forces to create a cross-brand purpose platform. Project #1? Re-wilding the Planet. Imagine if every product from the aforementioned companies featured an activation message which invited customers to join in re-wilding projects in their community.

We’re running out of time. Let’s do this.