When commerce, public health and civil rights collide.


When US climate inactivity is viewed as a violation of the Constitution, the wearing of masks is politicized, and funding for sectors like education is cut, we expect less from our government. It just doesn’t work for us. Eight out of ten Americans are “dissatisfied” with the state, and the “government” itself has been the country’s biggest problem since 2017.

If the elect can’t help, then maybe the mascots can. Online branding campaigns, many of which spill in the store and on the street, get significant traction as the needle moves. For a minute, let’s consider brands that serve a higher purpose than just maintaining consumption.

You’re getting a bad wrap. And that’s understandable. The main goal of companies is growth for growth’s sake. The only comparison is cancer, as writer Douglas Rushkoff points out. “The American economy requires companies to grow or die in their industries.”

But we are at an interesting time. When businesses that are still trying to grow chase current consumer desires, they end up doing good – from addressing public health concerns and voter engagement to systemic racism in America and our mental wellbeing. Because government institutions do not fully promote, motivate, serve and support our global challenges, brands reinforce each other despite their “bad intentions”. Perhaps it is time to question this mundane characterization.


According to WARC, a market research publication, 89% of brands launched a COVID-19 campaign back in the fall. While some activations, like Coca-Cola’s social distancing, were arguably harmless, the corporate foundation has donated over $ 50 million worldwide to aid COVID-19.

It’s not just about the money. In addition to its own donations, GAP Inc. has procured and delivered millions of PPE to hospital networks and stored emergency supplies in their warehouses. Meanwhile, LVMH and countless other brands have made once-rare hand sanitizers, Diageo has supported unemployed restaurant professionals, YouTube has developed a family-oriented Learn @ Home educational site, and Peloton offered months of free fitness classes for those who are quarantined and struggling with physical activity at home.

Aetna’s most recent “Time for Care” campaign arose out of a finding that nearly 60% of Americans said they canceled or postponed a health appointment due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19. In addition to free delivery of prescriptions, national TV spots, microsites and digital content encouraging everyone to fend for themselves, they supply millions of kits of thermometers, hand sanitizer and face masks to their members across the country.

two people walking from a bird's eye view

Starbucks playful, playful distancing reminders in the store, part of a campaign by Tuio, a creative agency


More creative: Starbucks unveiled an in-store activation entitled “2m – Safe is the New Cool”. Starbucks artistically designates the recommended distancing on the floor with fun and digitally interactive pieces, effectively promoting behavior and public health. It’s a non-intrusive, non-politicizing, and non-selfish strategy that simply benefits local communities – on a large scale.

Brands have become the social guardians of culture, sometimes dull, but consistently keen to do the right thing.

Let’s not fool ourselves. Your ultimate goal is still to increase revenue and reduce costs, but these humaneness-based campaigns are moving the needle in areas that are in dire need of funding, innovation and resources. This work is net positive and COVID-19 campaigns are just one angle …

Social justice

Since the assassination of George Floyd, Walmart and Apple have each pledged to donate $ 100 million to fund centers for racial justice and justice. These are just two brands out of hundreds that have strengthened. The NBA has loudly postponed its playoff game as a statement, while other developers, including Sesame Street and Nickelodeon, have created activist awareness content that provides both support and resources. Google is currently alerting consumers to black-owned businesses, and Yelp is helping flag the racist businesses. At the risk of rejecting consumers with different values, companies are duplicating what is required in the culture and long overdue. These brands don’t have to reject it, but they are. And not to sympathize with sterile, faceless companies, but to acknowledge the reality: There is no legal obligation … for the moment.

Climate crisis

Given that 81% of the world’s people believe that companies should help improve the environment, brands like Patagonia, Columbia, Nat Geo, REI, and Ben & Jerry’s have stepped up measures to address the climate crisis with significant measures. Patagonia literally protected the land from indigenous people who otherwise would have become a ski resort. Lacoste successfully raised awareness of endangered species by replacing its infamous crocodile logo, and The Guardian updated its style guide to step up writing about the climate on its property. After just one year, 93 companies representing 207 brands have joined the Global Fashion Agenda and set a total of 213 unique goals for the development of a thriving circular economy. Again, these are self-induced measures, no matter what time they are.

Civil engagement

How about a vote? FootLocker is turning more than 2,000 of its stores across the country into registration centers, and Levis is doing everything possible. They host live conversations with prominent executives, create new customizable products, develop PSAs with Hailey Bieber and Oge Egbuonu, and donate $ 2.6 million to 23 community involvement organizations. Which makes Levis’ work so refreshing that it also addresses local elections. At the same time, Snapchat has registered over a million young voters – more than half are newbies – and Uber is offering discounted rides to polling stations and free groceries for election workers. We’ll see just how difficult the situation really is when Uber pushes on Prop 22 and against the protection of its gig drivers at the same time.

Mental health

In light of World Mental Health Day, Facebook launched a global mental health hub that supports over 2.5 billion people struggling with anxiety, depression, and suicide. This is important because one in four adults with a mental illness report that they are unable to get the treatment they need. To counter the stigma, Reddit has also partnered with Crisis Text Line, which provides 24/7 support and allows users to tag each other and send support. Talkspace donated 1,000 months of free online therapy for medical workers in the US, and Nike designed a shoe with psychotherapist and sneakerhead Liz Beecroft. The proceeds go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This is by no means superficial, but it is critical when the government has cut funding for the substance abuse and mental health administration by $ 600 million. What other institutions are dealing with this deficit?

Nike sneaker flies in the air with bridge in the background

Air Max 270 Reacts by Nike x Liz Beecroft that create awareness and funding for mental health


These activations are of course ironic. Consumerism has accelerated climate change and social networks have weakened our sanity. In other words, our own frivolous spending and incessant scrolling got us here. Call Apple Manufacturers Working Conditions, but don’t fret if an iPhone becomes unaffordable. Without granting amnesty to companies, it is worth noting how we humans are actively involved in these negative outcomes, but also in these positive reparations. When companies step on the gas, consumers have their hands on the wheel.

Amanda Mull writes in the Atlantic, as our country’s leaders fail to keep change intact: “Companies that have something to sell will perish. And they will act out of selfishness. “However, this is not necessarily all negative. As long as this self-interest is tied to current consumer ethics, companies will be forced to become the drivers of our desired progress.

According to a study by PR firm Cone / Porter-Novelli, 77% of people feel more emotionally attached to purpose-oriented companies than to traditional ones. Additionally, the same percentage believes that businesses need to do more than just make money. They also need to have a positive impact on society. Brands with a purpose have been projected to grow twice as fast as brands without a clear mission.

Today’s consumers have declared their demand: progress. And if brands are to capture their – or our – dollars, they have to comply. If 85% of Americans expect companies to help fight racial inequality, companies will do what they are expected to do, risking losing a competitive advantage in the process. That’s not bad, that’s good. And they are already answering.

We are entering into a new social contract with companies: we pay their price in exchange for the change we want and no one else gives us.

The archaic bastions of change, the city, state and national governments, are anchored in backward laws, outdated ideologies and ineffective processes. Brands remain our modern civil servants … even if they ultimately only want our money. As long as consumers – or rather we – maintain and increase our expectations of brands, we still have a chance to fight for the positive changes we need.