Brands and Morality

By Moritz Schulz

Besides Corona and its aftermath, there’s a theme at this year’s Cannes Lions that you’ll encounter again and again in talks and keynotes, award-winning films and promo materials.

The theme is called “brand wokeness,” loosely translated: The morality of brands.

Even from the festival’s promo material, Colin Kaepernick looks thoughtfully at you. This is the NFL player who was the first prominent U.S. athlete to kneel to protest police violence there. Shortly thereafter, shoe manufacturer Nike built a massive advertising campaign around him and his moral intransigence, which moreover celebrated the ethnic and sexual diversity of the U.S., and whose concerted actions of giant posters and commercials even earned the campaign an Emmy.

In numerous talks this year, one comes across examples such as the brand Doritos, which uses its spicy chips to campaign for women’s rights and also passed on the numerous statements of its customers to the representatives and senators in Washington.

Whether “Black lives matter,” LGBTQ rights, the #Metoo movement, diversity, or many others – value campaigns are emerging at breakneck speed in the USA. And (almost) always on board are (especially US) companies that want to link their brands to these movements and shape the discourse with their own actions and campaigns. This social or political activism is the central sign of the times of American advertising strategies and one of the essential trademarks of this year’s Cannes Lions.

This development naturally raises numerous questions also for us as BW Lions from Baden-Württemberg. On the one hand, the question arises whether this activism can also be transferred to Germany, or to the Ländle? And is it possible to reach relevant demographics of the consumer society here as well? Should moral aspirations be linked to and for profit maximization? And would it suit German companies at all if they one day campaigned for minority rights, the protection of refugees, or the like? But the most fundamental question of all is – do brands and morals fit?

Since almost all economic trends will come to Germany sooner or later, we should definitely take a look at these developments in U.S. advertising and public relations and think about our own stance on this development for ourselves and our customers.

And no matter what our attitude is, it will be crucial that such content positions in advertising are not simply used as marketing gags, but – if at all – reflect the daily, lived positions of the represented companies.

And thinking about our own moral compass in the context of business, ecology and society would do us good in any case. Not only for fashion brands like Nike, but also for a large number of German companies – especially in the state of car and machine manufacturers.

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