Brand activism and advertising have an intricate relationship because they determine consumer behavior and the profitability of modern organizations. Brand activism entails the use of social, political, economic, and environmental causes by organizations to create their brands in competitive markets. In their advertising, organizations exploit prevailing brand activism in marketing their commodities in various markets. According to Banet-Weiser (2012), advertisers employ brand activism to shape social practices, beliefs, and opinions with the objective of bringing about societal change and creating a favorable consumer culture.
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In the same way, green advertising exploits environmental activism in marketing commodities as environmentally friendly and projecting organizations as pro-conservationists. However, Goldman and Papson (1996) hold that green advertising sanitizes environmental degradation, legitimizes corporate practices, and justifies the persistent exploitation of natural resources. In essence, advertising has increased the exploitation and consumption of natural resources, resulting in massive environmental degradation. Therefore, this research paper focuses on analyzing the relationship between brand activism and green advertising by examining activity-based initiatives, ethical consumption, social activism, authenticity, social responsibility, and a case of green commodity activism.
Activism-based initiatives improve the effectiveness of brands in competitive markets where economic, social, political, and environmental factors come into play. Organizations that create global brands employ activism-based initiatives in accessing a diverse audience. Social activism effectively increases the exposure of brands to highly competitive global markets. For example, the Dove Campaign reached millions of viewers across the world because it employed social activism in depicting the real beauty of an idealized image, self-esteem, and empowerment as attributes of societal change (Banet-Weiser, 2012). Since activity-based initiatives associate brands with noble causes in society, they captivate target consumers and encourage them to participate in creating a better society or achievement of specific success. In its campaign to improve the image of femininity and empower girls through education, the Dove Self-Esteem Fund gained significant publicity and prominence in target markets (Banet-Weiser, 2012). Hence, the brand of Dove soap has dominated the world because social activism is effective in advertising products that associate with various social matters, such as beauty, self-esteem, gender, and empowerment.
The utilization of activity-based initiatives is also useful because it facilitates brands to be in tandem with trends of consumer culture. Over time, consumer culture has changed in response to prevailing ethics, values, beliefs, and norms. Waves of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which agitated for women’s rights, empowerment, and affirmative actions, shaped consumer culture and compelled fashion and cosmetic brands to apply them in their activity-based branding (Banet-Weiser, 2012). Thus, keeping abreast with trends allows organizations to advertise their products by capitalizing on current issues that affect individuals, communities, and nations. The employment of activity-based initiatives is effective since it engages consumers to pursue noble causes such as environmental conservation. Green advertising emerged when the trend of environmental conservation occurred in the late 19th century following excessive degradation of natural resources.
The analysis of ethical consumption shows that consumers do ‘good’ by ‘buying good’ from competitive markets. Depending on the nature of activism, commodities in the market can be ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and consumers have a choice of making ethical consumption. Consumers apply ethical principles when considering the morality of products and services they purchase from various markets. The premise of ethical consumption is that consumers have the power to support or discourage unethical business practices that degrade natural resources, enslave employees, or destroy human health. Responsible consumers understand the production process of their preferable products and make ethical purchases. Advertisers define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ products based on consumer beliefs, values, norms, and brand activism (Grauel, 2016). Moral factors that determine ethical consumption have a strong influence because they convince consumers to do ‘good’ by ‘purchasing good’ products.
Environmental activism has branded commodities as either ‘green’ or ‘non-green,’ depending on their impact on the environment. Since environmental degradation is a global issue, consumers are aware that global warming and climate change threatens the existence of not only humanity but also organisms in their native habitats.
The assessment of prominent commodities shows that brand activism and green advertising have a direct relationship because modern consumers are authentic, moral, and responsible. Goldman and Papson (1996) assert that extensive advertising has increased the consumption of products and exploitation of natural resources, leading to massive degradation environment. To reverse the trend of environmental degradation, green advertising informs customers about alternative products to promote ethical consumption. Informed citizens participate in environmental conservation through ethical consumption of green commodities (Paco & Rodrigue, 2016). Therefore, by purchasing ‘green’ products, consumers understand that they participate in the conservation of the environment.
Social activism is central to branding because it shapes the opinions, values, and norms of consumers. As advertising seeks to bring about changes in society, it relies on social activism, which is the power of individuals to influence consumer behavior. Social activism uses its members as activists who propagate and sustain consumer change in the target market. The Dove Self-Esteem Fund focused on empowering not only women and girls as consumers but also social campaigners (Banet-Weiser, 2012). As activists, recruited women and girls were able to propagate and sustain the advertisement of commodities associated with the company. Millions of girls and women have participated actively in the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty because they accessed tools, workshops, and forums, which turned them into social activists.
Social activism is evident in green advertising due to the increased awareness of environmental conservation. The aspect of ethical consumption makes consumers activists because they use their money to buy preferred products. Organizations that produce green merchandise employ environmental activism for ethical consumers to recognize and purchase them. With the capacity to make an informed choice of green products, consumers become social activists. Paco and Rodrigue (2016) explain that informed consumers of green products propagate their consumption behaviors and lifestyles as environmentalists. Thus, customers are true social activists of commodities because they do not only consume but advocate for their utilization.
The evaluation of the authenticity of products indicates that all products are not as authentic as customers understand. Advertisers employ brand activism to market their products and convince consumers about authenticity. For instance, in defining beauty, the Dove Campaign presented idealized feminine image and beautiful women using “white, thin, and blond,” yet most people have various attributes and traits that define their beauty (Banet-Weiser, 2012, p. 19). The existence of inauthentic products in the market has necessitated the establishment of authentic adverts that concentrate on the reality of products. Despite the efforts made by the Dove Campaign to provide authentic adverts and products, consumers still experience the challenge of authenticity. Hence, as advertising aims to make sales and profits, consumers continue to encounter inauthentic products.
In green advertising, the authenticity of products is in doubt because organizations employ it in improving their image and endorsing their products. To avert negative perceptions by customers, companies that exploit natural resources and contribute significantly to environmental degradation use green advertising. Goldman and Papson (1996) argue that green advertising aims to legitimize degrading practices of organizations and project them as good consumers of natural resources. Nevertheless, organizations that degrade natural resources and pollute the environment do not have the moral stance to support green efforts of conservation. Thus, consumers need to know that all adverts and products are not as authentic as they appear.
Control by Business Logic
Although consumers have a social responsibility in their consumption habits, they are inevitably under the control of the business logic. Organizations manufacture products and market them with the sole objective of making profits, irrespective of the morality of consumption. To achieve their objectives, organizations use brand activism to persuade customers to purchase and consume their products. The nature of advert dictates information that consumers gain and drives the business logic of profitability. According to Goldman and Papson (1996), organizations engage green advertising in portraying their products as eco-friendly and their roles as pro-conservationists. The portrayal of products in this manner enables organizations to control perceptions of customers and overcome their social responsibility in ethical consumption.
Green advertising has a powerful influence because it persuades consumers to purchase green products and conserve their environment. Nonetheless, the existence of greenwashing misleads consumers, disallows social responsibility, and controls consumption behavior. Schmuck and Matthes (2018) report that the increasing demand for eco-friendly products has made organizations employ greenwashing strategies in advertising their products with the objective of misleading consumers and increasing profits. Without valid evidence to support their assertions, organizations claim that their products are ‘sustainable,’ ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘renewable,’ and ‘organic’ to attract and mislead customers (Schmuck & Matthes, 2018). Based on their business logic, manufacturers craft their advert by incorporating green elements with greenwashing effect on consumers. Thus, in the modern world, consumers have limited social responsibility of choosing products because organizations utilize deceptive brand activism.
Companies across the globe engage in branding campaigns in line with their modes of activism. Greener Stores is a branding campaign of Starbucks, which illustrates the concept of shared responsibility and societal organization in the consumption of green brands. According to Yan and Yazdanifard (2014), Starbucks established Greener Stores as a green campaign to reduce waste, conserve water and energy, and build environmentally-friendly stores in various countries across the globe. The campaign aims to protect and preserve the environment by reversing the effects of global warming and climate change. Social activism is evident in the consumption of Starbucks products since consumers are willing to pay extra costs as a way of partaking in environmental conservation. Green advertising has enabled Starbucks to attract customers, improve their experience, and allow them to participate in addressing climate change.
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Green Commodity Activism
The promotion of green commodity activism allows consumers to share the blame for the degradation of the environment. Organizations that degrade the environment participate in green advertising to encourage consumers to participate in green initiatives and alleviate the impacts of their operations. Goldman and Papson (1996) assert that organizations use green commodity activism to legitimize their destructive activities and share the blame with consumers. Through continued purchase and consumption of products from organizations that degrade the environment, consumers take part in the destruction, and thus, share the blame. By involving consumers in commodity activism, organizations avert societal criticism, which depicts them negatively. Given that green commodity activism empowers consumers to propagate the consumption of brands, it encourages the destruction of the environment. Thus, commodity activism depicts consumers as partakers of activities that destroy the environment.
The analysis of the Greener Stores campaign exhibits the existence of commodity activism because consumers share the problem of climate change with Starbucks. The process of Starbucks consumes energy and water, as well as releases wastes, which contribute to global warming and climate change. As the consumption of products increases, the destruction of the environment augments proportionally. To alleviate negative impacts on the environment, Starbucks launched the campaign, which received remarkable support from consumers. Banet-Weiser (2012) argues that commodity activism makes consumers choose brands of Starbucks over others due to green brand equity. The knowledge of climate change and its impacts among consumers promotes the ethical consumption of green brands.
The green commodity activism perceives the societal organization as a requirement in the resolution of global environmental issues, such as climate change and global warming. The analysis of consumption behaviors in society shows that individuals contribute to global warming through their carbon footprints. The amount of food, electricity, and fuel consumed, as well as waste released into the environment, accounts for the carbon footprint of individuals. Ethical consumption requires consumers to take individual and collective responsibilities of reducing degradation of the environment and decreasing impacts of climate change (Grauel, 2016). In this view, green commodity activism indicates that societal organization aids in the resolution of the environmental issue of climate change by individuals and society.
Brands and Branding
Organizations use brands and branding in marketing their products in competitive markets. Starbucks has the leading brands of coffee products, such as coffee blends, smoothies, Frappuccino coffee, Starbucks beverages, and Espresso. These brands have positioned Starbucks as the leading dealer of coffee products in the United States and across the world. Due to increasing competition, Starbucks undertakes branding to attract and retain its customers while remaining competitive. Starbucks employs green branding in boosting its brands in both local and global markets where competitions have increased over time (Yan & Yazdanifard, 2014). Green branding entails the education of consumers on the essence of environmental conservation, the transformation of manufacturing processes to reflect green lifestyle, and advertisement of the organizational image as the promoter of green manufacturing and consumption. The inception of the Greener Stores campaign as a branding technique has significantly increased the brand equity and competitiveness of Starbucks (Goldman & Papson, 1996). The consequence of green branding is that consumers appreciate the products and image of the company for they support conservation efforts of the degrading environment.
In the modern world with many product choices, consumers have the responsibility of making ethical decisions when purchasing their preferred commodities. Consumer citizenship requires consumers to undertake ethical consumption by purchasing green products that protect and preserve the environment from pollution and degradation. Grauel (2016) states that consumers have a moral duty to make choices regarding the nature of products that they purchase by ensuring that they are environmentally friendly, sustainable, and renewable. In its campaign, Starbucks seeks to promote consumer citizenship by allowing commodity activism in the protection of the environment (Yan & Yazdanifard, 2014). When consumers make informed choices to purchase Starbucks’ products based on brand equity, they participate in commodity activism and exercise ethical consumption. Thus, consumer citizenship is critical in green advertising because it assists consumers to make informed choices of products and alleviate climate change.
Brand activism is a marketing strategy that focuses on realizing social, economic, political, or environmental reforms. Banet-Weiser (2012) maintains that activism allows organizations to develop brands by influencing the perceptions and practices of consumers. Critical scrutiny of the campaign of Starbucks indicates that it undertakes environmental activism in boosting its brands and organizational image in the competitive global markets. Following the realization that modern customers are ethical and responsible in their consumption habits, organizations have decided to use brand activism to meet their needs. The preference for green products due to increasing environmental awareness has made Starbucks initiate the Greener Stores campaign, which seeks to promote the use of eco-friendly processes to ease climate change. Environmental activism has proved to be a valid form of activism because it has increased the brand equity of Starbucks across the globe.
Ideals of Authenticity
Authenticity plays a crucial role in brand activism and green advertising. Organizations rely on authentic consumer needs and preferences when designing brand activism and marketing products. Likewise, consumers depend on authentic information about products in making informed decisions that comply with ethical consumption. In essence, both organizations and consumers require ideals of authenticity to bring about favorable and ethical consumer culture. Morality, integrity, trustworthiness, consistency, and reliability are some of the ideals of authenticity required by organizations and consumers for sustainable and mutual benefits. According to Grauel (2016), the moral discourse of social responsibility needs consumers to make ethical decisions and declare their preferences for the benefit of brand activism. In the case study, Starbucks declared that the objectives of its campaign are to conserve energy and protect the environment. Owing to their loyalty, consumers support Starbucks by consuming its products with the understanding that they support stated conservation efforts. Thus, ideals of authenticity create a mutual relationship between Starbucks and consumers and synergize efforts aimed at conserving the environment and controlling climate change.
The analysis of brand activism and green advertising shows that they are necessary for effective leverage of consumer culture. Depending on the nature of markets, organizations can employ economic, political, social, and environmental forms of activism. The analysis of relationships demonstrates that activism-based initiatives are effective, ‘buying good’ is ethical consumption, and customers are social activists. However, the inauthenticity of adverts and the control of consumers by the business logic are some of the setbacks of brand activism. Further analysis of the case of the Starbucks campaign, Greener Stores, indicates that consumers and societal organizations promote sharing of the blame of environmental destruction via acts of green commodity activism. Critical analysis of Greener Stores demonstrates that brands, branding, consumer citizenship, branded activism, and ideals of authenticity promote the competitiveness of Starbucks. Overall, branding activism permits organizations to create diverse brands, which meet the unique needs of customers in various competitive markets across the globe.
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Grauel, J. (2016). Being authentic or being responsible? Food consumption, morality, and the presentation of self. Journal of Consumer Culture, 16(3), 852-869.
Paco, A., & Rodrigue, R. G. (2016). Environmental activism and consumers’ perceived responsibility. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 40(4), 466-474. Web.
Schmuck, D., & Matthes, J. (2018). Misleading consumers with green advertising? An affect-reason-involvement account of greenwashing effects in environmental advertising. 47(2), 127-145. Web.
Yan, Y. K., & Yazdanifard, R. (2014). The concept of green marketing and green product development on consumer buying approach. Global Journal of Commerce & Management Perspective, 3(2), 33-38.