When and How Should Brands Speak Up on Social Issues Such as #MeToo

It’s no secret that 2017 was the spark that initiated a revival of the fourth wave of feminism. This digitally driven wave has presented society with numerous online social movements. One of the most notable of these movements has been #MeToo

Although this viral hashtag was introduced in October 2017, the movement started back in 2006 in efforts to promote “empowerment through empathy.” The statement was revitalized with a social media element in 2017 because of the ongoing sexual harassment and assault allegations, specifically in the workplace. It was ignited by the entertainment industry as a result of public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against film producer, Harvey Weinstein.

Women took to their screens and began to utilize the hashtag #MeToo in efforts to reveal the extent of problems with sexual harassment and assault by demonstrating how many people have been exposed to these events themselves. The hashtag rapidly gained traction with over 1.7 million #MeToo tweets from 85 countries, just within the first week. Since then, the hashtag has become so popular that Twitter created a #MeToo emoji that appears each time the hashtag is used.

The #MeToo movement is a social media movement. Without the use of social media, the desired messaging would not have had the capacity to spread the way it has. Social media has democratized feminist activism by removing geographic barriers, and allowing anyone with a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr to participate and share their stories.

Since #MeToo is a consumer-driven social media campaign, it is only natural for brands to feel a degree of pressure to participate or take a stance on the issue. Many brands have begun to use social media as a way to build meaningful connections with their customers; with this, comes a demand from customers to know where companies stand on social issues.

In this polarized political climate, brands must be careful about how they approach social issues and thought leadership. In terms of the #MeToo movement, brands must be wary of the fine line between supporting women and villainizing men. This introduces the question of, how can something be branded addressing the feminist movement without consequentially negatively stereotyping men? If brands aren’t careful about how they approach this question, they can position themselves to lose consumer loyalty.

Another misstep that brands must be careful of in terms of #MeToo, is navigating a way to support feminist principles without blatantly exploiting the hashtag. While most brands have stuck to subtly promoting these ideals, some have chosen to inappropriately commercialize the hashtag #MeToo in efforts to sell their products.

i.e. the American beauty brand, Hard Candy applied for a trademark for #MeToo and it went as poorly as you’d probably expect:

Although, Hard Candy’s intentions may have been pure, appropriating the viral hashtag demonstrated a degree of insensitivity that consumers did not support.

Brands can (not so) easily avoid this flack if they choose to endorse feminist ideals by promoting gender equality rather than outwardly endorsing the hashtag. A successful example of this can be seen in Audi’s 2017 Super Bowl ad. Audi promotes gender equality in a commercial about a father confronting gender issues to his young daughter. This ad proves to be more successful than Hard Candy’s approach to social issues because while it’s keeping up with political conversations, it doesn’t outwardly address a specific movement. It plays to gender equality, opposed to picking sides between men versus women.

Our world has hit a turning point in how we handle social issues. Social media has completely transformed the way we communicate our beliefs. Subsequently, brands are being forced to become more socially aware and must find ways to appease their consumers in more than simply providing quality products and services. Brands are now being asked to take a stance on prominent issues and leveraging social media in doing so. Consumers will use brands’ stances to decide whether or not they will invest in their products. Talk about pressure. It will be interesting to witness more brands make these controversial choices and how they decide to promote their own values. What rule-of-thumb do you think brands should stick to when it comes to taking a stance on social issues? Do you think it’s better to confront the controversy, or stay away from it?

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