Trend to watch: Brand activism

There’s a movement rising, not just in support of a single cause, but of having a purpose—and acting on it. Trust in traditional institutions is broken, and more people are seeking transparency, authenticity, and commitment to a set of values. We’re demanding better from the powers that be, and there’s a rising call for participation—even resistance. Brands can be the change that we seek. Endorsing a brand that’s aligned with our values can be a form of activism, an expression of solidarity.

Many Breakthrough Brands thrive in this climate because they’re born with purpose at the core. But it’s the brands bred of this movement, fueling this desire for change that we’re most interested in watching—to see how they’ll change the standards. In our search for this year’s Breakthrough Brands, we spotted a few interesting, albeit nascent, ideas—a nail salon cultivating a culture of feminism, a crowdfunding site dedicated solely to political causes. We’re curious to see what brands might emerge in this climate. Will zealous upstarts step in where established brands are have fallen short? And how will these activators evolve as times change?

This highly charged landscape presents opportunities and challenges across the board. For legacy brands, holding on to consumer trust demands stronger governance and an examination of core truths. It’s not only about taking a political stance, but committing to a set of values. It’s understanding that businesses in society have a responsibility to stand up for what’s right, communicating a vision and then bringing it to life.

Finding purpose is not hard; every brand has something to stand for. Having the empathy and self-awareness to communicate that authentically will be key. Brands that show a deep understanding of themselves and their audiences will shape our culture and economies—by inciting much more than transactions.