02 Jun Cause Marketing: Advocacy isn’t a dirty word.
I recently came across the “Top 10 Controversial United Colors of Benetton Ads”on Buzz! and it got me wondering about the role companies play as issue advocates in today’s marketplace.
Let’s start by looking back at Benetton and the powerful advocacy role their ads played in helping move critical issues to the forefront. They sparked dialogue and debate on some of the key issues of our time – gender inequality, global poverty, religious rights and freedoms, human rights, capital punishment and more. Here is an example of one of their more memorable ads:
For corporations today, aligning with a social cause is the right thing to do and many have proudly taken on the role of issue champion. For most though, an advocacy position is out of the question. The “A” word has negative connotations. It is essentially seen as confrontational with governments. It is perceived as potentially alienating for markets and publics. And generally, it is thought of as dangerously provocative all around.
I suggest advocacy needs to be seen in a new light. Advocates should be defined by what they are for, not what they are against. And to be a true issue champion, you need to do more for the issue than just support it financially. You need to take into account all the facets of real social change – from awareness to attitudes to action to advocacy.
Being an advocate doesn’t have to be as disruptive as Benetton’s efforts though. It does mean using your business strength to help drive systemic changes, inform new policies or contribute to changes in public opinions and behaviours. Canadian Tire has helped advocate for daily physical activity in schools. Nike has advocated for girls in sports. Bell has advocated for better mental health supports and services. Bottom line: being an issue advocate isn’t antithetical to being an issue champion. They go hand in hand.
What do you think? We’d like to hear your thoughts and comments too.