WOKE or ANTI-WOKE: A Risky Marketing Strategy That May Kill Your Brand.

Woke is a marketing strategy; Anti-Woke is also a marketing strategy. Companies may lead the average consumer to believe they are aligning with these ideologies out of passion for the issues and their bleeding hearts, but it is largely a branding and marketing decision that has resulted in short-term record profits (highs or lows) and customer loyalty. The real issue here is the long-term consequences of aligning with either ideology, which has and may continue to prove devastating for a company’s longevity.

When a company chooses to extend its cause marketing strategy into the socio-political arena, it is playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette with its brand reputation. While it may gain the favor of nearly half or more of the country who align with its stance, it simultaneously risks alienating and enraging the other half or more of the country as potential customers. This alienation can last for as long as consumers remember the company’s polarizing political decision, which could potentially haunt the brand for years to come.


Survival of The Fittest and The Indestructible: Businesses That Can Endure Woke or Anti-Woke Strategies

Two types of businesses can survive by choosing to be Woke or Anti-Woke as their marketing strategy:

  1. A business whose core purpose and value proposition revolve around socio-political activism may benefit from aligning with a particular ideology. However, if you’re a company like The Walt Disney Company whose main focus is widely consumable entertainment products and services, leaning heavily into political activism on either side has been and will continue to be detrimental. The goal for such companies is to attract as many customers as possible, whether it’s getting asses in seats, increasing park attendance, or maximizing streams and downloads.
  2. A company that has a must-have, indestructible product/service offering or commodity that most people can’t live without, such as gasoline, electricity, must-have technology like Apple , or daily life mega-providers like Amazon. These indestructible companies may be able to absorb the fallout from being viewed negatively for a political stance, as consumers will likely return when they realize the business offering is indispensable.


The Struggle of Trendy Marketing Approaches Without a Strong Foundation

Alternatively, companies that have adopted either woke or anti-woke strategies as mere trendy marketing approaches without a foundational and indestructible value to the market may struggle considerably, as they risk doing irreparable damage to relationships with current and future consumers. As consumers may hold opposing convictions, while others may agree with the stance but see it as a cash grab or lazy marketing.

Regardless, all will remember the company’s socio-political stance when it comes time for them to make a purchasing decision based on the company’s politically charged past, especially when compared to an apolitical competitor.

According to a 2019 Cone/Porter Novelli survey, 72% of U.S. consumers want brands to reflect their values.

Also, a 2019 study by the New Paradigm Strategy Group and Fortune found that 64% of US adults believe a company’s “primary purpose” should be “making the world a better place.”

These statistics suggest that consumers demand and want to invest in purpose-driven businesses that share their values, which will also include their political values in most cases. Therefore, companies must carefully consider the long-term implications of aligning with polarizing ideologies before adopting Woke or Anti-Woke marketing strategies.


Socio-Political Activism: A Calculated Risk for Brand Longevity

I am not suggesting that companies should refrain from using their platform to support causes they believe in… rather, I am emphasizing that they should do so at their own risk.

For instance, in some cases, taking a socio-political stance might be a calculated risk that aligns with a company’s core values and target audience. For example, a company focused on environmental sustainability may find that advocating for climate change policies resonates with its customer base, even if it risks alienating climate change deniers.


The Long Game: Prioritizing Brand Health Over Fleeting Woke or Anti-Woke Sentiments”

At my marketing and branding agency, Brand Babylon, we always analyze metrics to determine the best course of action for a brand when making these difficult decisions, focusing on what would prove most beneficial in the long run. For example, my agency might analyze metrics such as customer sentiment scores, brand loyalty rates, and market share changes in response to a company’s socio-political activism.

We also conduct surveys and focus groups to gauge the potential impact of a brand’s stance on different customer segments. By combining these quantitative and qualitative data points, we can help companies make informed decisions about whether and how to engage in socio-political issues while minimizing the risk of long-term damage to their brand.

When considering taking a stance on socio-political issues, companies must carefully weigh the potential short-term gains against the long-term consequences. While aligning with a particular ideology may lead to a temporary surge in support from like-minded consumers, it can also alienate a significant portion of the target audience, resulting in lasting damage to the brand’s reputation and customer relationships.

Ultimately, the decision to engage in socio-political activism should be based on a thorough understanding of the brand’s core values, target audience, and long-term objectives. By analyzing relevant data and considering the potential risks and rewards, companies can make informed decisions that align with their brand identity and minimize the likelihood of irreparable harm to their business.

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Drew Lewis

Drew is a brand engineer, creative entrepreneur, digital marketer, and designer.

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