Nike chooses an activist basketball player as the face of a campaign, Gilette examines the macho culture. More and more companies are opting for outspoken messages as a PR strategy. By posing as a 'woke' they hope to connect with socially involved consumers.

The British department store Marks & Spencer launched an "LGBT sandwich" ( lettuce, guacamole, bacon, tomato ) on the occasion of the Pride week. Part of the proceeds went to organizations that are committed to the LGBTI community.

Despite the good intentions of the department store, the reactions were mostly negative. On social media, the company was reluctant. Almost no one thought the pink commitment of the retail chain was credible.

The action of Marks & Spencer is not isolated. More and more companies consider it important to present themselves as a 'woke', says Rutger van den Berg of research and communication agency YoungWorks. "It means that you are aware of social inequalities and act accordingly."

The 'woke' movement seems to have originated on American university campuses, where activist students hold organizations or individuals who in their eyes are guilty of racism or sexism, for example, accountable.

“You only become a 'woke' if you think about issues such as sustainability and inclusiveness and act accordingly” Rutger van den Berg, YoungWorks

"Shell painted a gas station in rainbow colors"

Multinationals such as Nike, Gilette and Pepsi try to connect with the new youth culture in their communication. Gilette devised a campaign in which traditional male role patterns were criticized. Nike used the black American Football player Colin Kaepernick, famous for his protest against anti-black police violence, as a role model.

And Pepsi produced a commercial with slick images of demonstrating young people. In the Netherlands, the annual Canal Pride parade is the perfect moment for companies to show their commitment. Shell painted a gas station in rainbow colors and companies such as KPN and ING are taking part in the canal parade.

According to the Platform Innovation in Marketing (PIM), we are in the era of the political consumer. PIM screens with figures to illustrate this in a report. For example, 73 percent of people would "expect more socially from brands than they now see from them".

See also: Nike chooses kneeling NFL player Kaepernick as the face of a new campaign

"Credibility is important"

But how credible is it when a multinational presents itself as a "woke"? Van den Berg sees many companies failing: "That campaign from Gilette was a nice find by the advertising agency. They saw that some of the young people are struggling with masculinity and have come up with a story around it. That the campaign was received with mixed feelings, is because the message has too little to do with the product. In the end, Gilette just makes razor blades. "

Brand activism is not without risk, warns Van den Berg: "You are only really woke if you think about and act on issues such as sustainability and inclusiveness. If you do not, it becomes a marketing tool, or 'woke washing'. That is not smart. The woke movement consists of very articulate people. If you are not sincere, they know where to find you. "

Another danger, according to Van den Berg, is the capriciousness of young people: "If a brand profiles itself with a certain conviction, it tries to make a link with consumers at the level of identity. Young people between the ages of ten and twenty-five are completely fed up with it experimenting. In a few months' time they may identify with other values ​​again. Moreover, taking a stand also means that there is a group that turns away from you. "

"If you have no opinion, there is nobody for you"

Brand and business strategist Daan de Raaf believes it is a risk that you have to take as a company: "The main thing is to be honest. You have to express an opinion because you believe in it, not because it resonates with a target group. Advertising icon Bill Bernbach once said: "If you have an opinion, there are people for you and against you. If you have no opinion, there is nobody for you and nobody for you."

"Everything that is a trick will turn against you" Daan de Raaf, brand strategist

De Raaf has aversion to terms such as 'woke', 'purpose marketing' or 'brand activism'. According to him, it distracts from the heart of the matter, namely that companies must become aware of the impact they have on the world. "The times are that companies can and should be a force for good . If you believe in it and act accordingly, you can tell an honest story. Anything that is a trick will turn against you."

"The 'woke' movement is not going away," predicts Van den Berg. "Consumers have received a clearer voice and do not hesitate to hold companies to account. If this increases the socially responsible behavior of companies, that is good. Although I do hope that 'woke' as a marketing tool will soon blow over."