Navigating Brand Activism

The Philippines is experiencing a notable shift in corporate practice and behavior, reflecting a broader, global movement toward brands that are not just about profits but are deeply engaged in societal, environmental, and political dialogue. This change stems from a growing desire and demand among consumers for companies to contribute more meaningfully to societal welfare, pushing the boundaries of traditional business roles.

In the Philippines, a country marked by its rich culture, diverse population, and history of social activism, the impact of brand activism is particularly pronounced. As companies align themselves with various causes, they navigate the complexities of social responsibility, consumer expectations, and the intricacies of engaging in a socio-politically charged environment.

Essence of brand activism

At its core, brand activism is about companies standing up for causes that, while not directly linked to their financial bottom lines, align with their core values, and resonate with their stakeholders. This evolution from conventional corporate social responsibility (CSR) involves brands engaging more proactively in societal issues and championing change.

The journey of brand activism is marked by both opportunities and hurdles. It is widely acknowledged as a potent mechanism for societal advancement, yet it introduces complexities for businesses and their stakeholders. Challenges range from potential public backlash and the risk of being perceived as insincere, to operational and financial implications tied to advocating for contentious matters.

The pros of brand activism

Builds consumer trust and loyalty: It is widely believed that brands that actively engage in social issues have deeper connection with their customers. In a country where societal values and communal ties are strong, brands that support relevant causes resonate well with Filipinos especially in building consumer trust and loyalty.

Enhances brand differentiation: Brand activism also help organizations stand out in a crowded market. By taking a stand on issues that matter to consumers, brands can differentiate better from competitors as they offer a unique value proposition that is product features and essences.

Encourages social change: Perhaps the most significant advantage is the potential for brands to effect real change. Through financial support, awareness campaigns, and leveraging their platforms, companies can influence societal attitudes, support marginalized communities, and contribute to policy changes.

The cons of brand activism

Risk of backlash: It is accepted that brands that engaged in activism runs the risk risk of alienating a segment of their market. In an economy where diverse opinions and values coexist, a firm stance taken by a brand may lead to public backlash which may potentially harm the brand’s reputation and financial performance.

Authenticity issues: Brands need to carefully balance the fine line between genuine activism and stunt. Companies that fail to back up their statements with tangible actions risk being seen as inauthentic, which can erode consumer trust and patronage resulting in poor business performance.

Operational and financial risks: Committing to social causes might necessitate operational changes that can be costly or logistically difficult or challenging. The brave ones that participate in the political fray can potentially invite scrutiny or worse a retaliation from political figures or groups opposed to the brand’s stance.

These are notable examples of brand activism in the Philippines.

Bench: Known for its clothing and lifestyle products, Bench has engaged in various social issues, including LGBTQ+ rights. Their campaigns often feature diverse models and themes that promote inclusivity, earning praise for raising awareness and fostering acceptance in a predominantly conservative society.

Nestlé Philippines: Nestlé Philippines’ holistic creating shared value (CSV) programs encompass environmental sustainability, specifically mitigating and adapting to climate change, and confronting the plastic waste crisis. It also helps improve nutrition, health, and wellness among malnourished children with the Nestlé Wellness Campus together with the Department of Education – teaching nutrition and healthy habits to 11 million schoolkids. The company also contributes to the coffee subsector’s development by helping smallholder farmers to sustainably improve yields, incomes, and quality of life, while practicing regenerative agriculture for future productivity and resilience against climate change under the Nescafé Plan.

Cebu Pacific: Cebu Pacific, in partnership with UNICEF continues to banner its Change for Good program where fans and passengers can donate to help vulnerable children, anytime and anywhere, even without booking a flight. By enabling the Change for Good program to be available inflight and now online, Cebu Pacific is committed to improving the lives of Filipino children and families.

Jollibee Foods Corp.: Jollibee, a fast-food giant, has utilized its vast network for disaster relief efforts. By mobilizing resources and supporting communities affected by natural disasters, Jollibee exemplifies how brands can play a critical role in immediate social response efforts.

SM: SM Retail, SM Store and SM Supermalls participate actively in environmental sustainability through its Green Finds advocacy which aims to promote Green Living, under the SM Green Movement Campaign. This advocacy makes it easy for Filipinos to live sustainably with the availability of products that are eco-friendly, made from natural and local ingredients, and support local communities. The program also gives businesses, particularly MSMEs, a venue to showcase and sell their green products, making their sustainable practices economically viable allowing them to grow. Through SM Stores nationwide, these MSMEs make their products available to more consumers.

The involvement of these brands and organizations in various causes demonstrates the multifaceted nature of brand activism in the Philippines. Through their initiatives, these companies contribute to social, environmental, and economic progress, while also navigating the complexities of public perception and the intricacies of aligning corporate actions with societal values.

Brand activism in the Philippines, indeed, serves as a testament to the evolving role of businesses in society. As these companies demonstrate, engaging in brand activism is not merely about taking a stand on external issues but reflects a deeper commitment to integrating societal values into the core of their business operations. This shift towards a more socially engaged corporate identity not only fosters stronger connections with consumers but also contributes to the broader societal good.

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