Taking a stand in controversy doesn’t always make the brand

Two weeks ago I wrote a piece about the need for brands to take a stand and loudly voice their opinions for both the brand world and its loyalists to hear. After much discussion with my team about Nike, Christianity, Israel Folau (and the devout Christian on Love Island), I felt compelled to continue the conversation.  

Brands do need to have a stance, an opinion and importantly, a voice, but it has only recently become a vital part of the brand strategyWhether that be due to the trailblazers of Nike and Apple, millennial values or simply data insights from the digital era, maybe the ‘Greta Thunberg effect’, isn’t just revolving around the environment.  

Trailblazing brands 

Apple is today well known as a brand with a daring nature, always pushing the envelope. Be it iPhones, iPods or iPads, the brand and its products always reflect their leadership position in market. They know exactly what they stand for and communicate that to their league of loyalists, always willing to wait in day-long queues to get their hands on the next iPhone. Trundle 20 years back to 1998 and it was the first coloured ‘Mac’ that saved the Apple brand, today worth in the vicinity of $1 Trillion. A daring, bold and ‘crazy’ move, no doubt, but it was their flag staked firmly in the ground and they have stood by it, proud and strong ever since. 

It was Nike’s commitment to Colin Kaepernick though, that really changed the brand game for our industryDespite being embroiled in controversy, they stood by his values, just as they did their own. Despite lighting up shoe bon-fires all over America, their share price jumped 9%. Their brand values rang true in the early 90’s at the height of the sweatshop production controversy, when they realized throwing their hands in the air, saying we’re not responsible, wasn’t the right way to go about it. As the economies of the production companies grew, so too did wages, work conditions and opportunities for career development.  

The Christianity brand 

This triggered some in-office debate and questioning though. Why does it work so well for institutional brands like these, yet Christianity, so often in the spotlight, is plummeting? Three churches in a radius of 5km to my local area, have recently been sold.  

The answer is clear. Taking Christianity as a brand, it openly and publicly debates about what is right and wrong, who is right and wrong, and what they stand for. Their silence in other times of controversy, is almost deafening. If Nike had done the same with Colin Kaepernick, their brand value would not be what it is today.  

Christianity and its spectrum has lived for eons, though. While Nike and Apple are decades strong into their brand journey, perhaps we simply want brands to be seen as standing for something, because according to Instagram, we all do too.  

More likely though, just as Greta Thunberg is a strong and admirable teenager, actively voicing her want to change (or save) the world, we are all doing our bit in our own way. It’s an exciting time for the brand world and I look forward to not only watching with a KeepCup of coffee and recycled box of popcorn, but continuing to voice my opinion too.   

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