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Practice what you preach: Why authentic brand activism is the way to go

Publicatiedatum: 19 | 10 | 2023

What do ice cream and politics have in common? Well, at first sight, not much. However, with the rise of Gen Z, which is highly involved in and committed to many sociopolitical issues, consumers are increasingly demanding brands speak up about important societal issues (1). For years, US ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s has used its platform to speak up about different sociopolitical issues, which is also reflected in the launch of the limited flavor Justice ReMix’d in 2019. Part of the sales’ profits were donated to Advancement Project National Office, a civil rights organization fighting against systemic racism and racial injustice in the United States. Furthermore, in response to the killing of Georgy Floyd in 2020, Ben & Jerry’s published a public statement to “dismantle white supremacy”, calling upon then-president Donald Trump to take action against systemic racism in the United States.

Authentic brand activism: Ben & Jerry’s on the forefront

By matching its marketing message with its corporate values and prosocial behavior, Ben & Jerry’s is known to practice authentic brand activism (4), which is crucial in ensuring that activist engagement elicits positive consumer responses (6). However, when a brand’s public messaging does not align with its corporate values and prosocial practices, and the brand’s motives are questioned (2), the brand’s activism can be deemed inauthentic (4). This can lower the credibility of the brand’s activist stand (3) and can be viewed negatively as aimed solely to increase profit (5). As the effects of the authenticity of brand activism remain vastly under-researched (4), the question arises: When a brand sponsors an event that aligns with its values and prosocial behavior, will that lead to a higher level of consumer trust and attitudinal loyalty than when a brand sponsors an event that does not match what it stands for?

Ben & Jerry’s limited flavor Change is Brewing stands for the safety and empowerment of Black communities and supports Black-owned businesses.


More than just chocolate and cinnamon flavors: Ben & Jerry’s limited batch Justice ReMix’d tastes like justice.

The research

In order to best answer the question posed above, an online experiment aimed to test the extent to which consumer responses towards a made-up brand differed when the brand’s activism was portrayed as authentic versus inauthentic. The participants first learned about the fictitious skincare brand Bare Bloom and its values and prosocial corporate practice supporting racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. Then, the participants saw a tweet in which Bare Bloom was either announcing their sponsorship of an upcoming Black Lives Matter protest, portraying authentic brand activism, or of the NFL, which has faced racist accusations in the past, therefore portraying inauthentic brand activism. Lastly, participants in both conditions were asked about their trust and attitudinal loyalty toward Bare Bloom.

In line with what was expected, the results show that the sponsorship announcement reflecting authentic brand activism had a much more positive effect on consumers’ trust and attitudinal loyalty towards the brand than did the sponsorship announcement portraying inauthentic brand activism. Participants that saw Bare Bloom’s sponsorship announcement of the BLM protest thus indicated a clearly higher level of trust and attitudinal loyalty towards the brand than participants that saw Bare Bloom announcing its sponsorship of the NFL.

The power of authenticity: why you should practice what you preach

Besides the fact that the event sponsored wasn’t correctly perceived by all respondents, and the concepts of trust and loyalty tend to be measured in a more long-term study design, this research still makes valuable contributions to marketers working across all industries. The results highlight the importance of practicing authentic brand activism, suggesting that when a brand sponsors events/causes that align with what it stands for, consumers are likely to indicate a higher level of trust and attitudinal loyalty towards that brand.

Nowadays, during a time when brands often feel pressured to speak up about sociopolitical issues, it is important to remember that not all brand activism is good brand activism. I thus recommend marketers to ensure that the brand’s public stand is mirrored in its values and corporate prosocial practices if they aim to elicit positive consumer responses through brand activism. That being said, when done in a sincere and authentic way, engaging in brand activism can be a powerful tool for brands to put themselves in a good light (7) and gain consumer trust and loyalty.

Want to learn more?

This blog is based on information from the following articles:

1. Ahmad, T. (2019). Corporate social responsibility: A value-creation strategy to engage millennials. Strategic Direction, 35(7), 5-8.

2. Holt, D. B. (2002). Why do brands cause trouble? A dialectical theory of consumer culture and branding. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), 70–90.

3. Alhouti, S., Johnson, C. M., & Holloway, B. B. (2016). Corporate social responsibility authenticity: Investigating its antecedents and outcomes. Journal of Business Research, 69(3), 1242–1249.

4. Vredenburg, J., Kapitan, S., Spry, A., & Kemper, J. A. (2020). Brands taking a stand: Authentic brand activism or woke washing? Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 39(4), 444–460.

5. Kotler, P., & Sarkar, C. (2017). Finally, brand activism. The Marketing Journal, 9, 1-8.

6. Atanga, B. A., Xue, X., & Mattila, A. S. (2022). The impact of Corporate Sociopolitical Activism (CSA) on brand attitude. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 107, 1-10.

7. Nguyen, D. T., Le, D. H. A., Truong, L. G., Truong, N. G., & Vu, V. V. (2022). The effect of Generation Z’s perceptions of brand activism on brand loyalty: Evidence from Vietnam. Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, 35(6), 1494–1512.

Dit artikel is gebaseerd op de bachelor scriptie “The Power of Authenticity – Unmasking the Effects of Authentic vs. Inauthentic Brand Activism Sponsorship on Attitudinal Brand Loyalty, and the Mediating Role of Brand Trust in the Context of the Black Lives Matter Movement” van Julianna Munte Stricker, student Communicatiewetenschap aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam. Julianna heeft hiermee de tweede editie van de SWOCC Blog Contest 2023 gewonnen, als beste Engelstalige blog.

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