Oh balls! When brand activism goes wrong

Oh balls! When brand activism goes wrong

The World Cup in Qatar has been shrouded in controversy. From the original awarding of the tournament to issues surrounding the treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ rights (who can forget the now infamous One Love armband saga), many of the headlines have come from action off the pitch.

It’s all kicking off

Many of these centred on Joe Lycett, the comedian who threatened to shred £10,000 unless ‘gay icon’ David Beckham withdrew from his lucrative deal to be an ambassador for the tournament. Of course, in true Lycett style, the money in the shredder turned out to be fake and had already been donated to LGBTQ+ charities. Expecting ‘Brand Beckham’ not to take the bait, he used the threat to raise awareness of the issues facing LGBTQ+ communities in the Middle East.

It was a PR stunt. And boy did it work!

For £10,000 and the time it took to make two short videos for social media, the ‘benders like Beckham’ campaign was featured by every major news outlet in the UK.

Going guerrilla

Whether you are a fan of his approach or not, you cannot deny these guerrilla PR tactics certainly helped get his point across much more effectively than many traditional PR campaigns that cost much more.

Beckham and his team’s approach was complete radio silence. His reputation – enhanced this year by his willingness to queue for the Queen’s lying-in-state – will likely survive this scare.

But it got me thinking about the threat activists pose to brands who do not live up to their values.

Take Brewdog for example. It took a similar stand on the Qatar World Cup, running a World F*Cup campaign as ‘anti-sponsors’. It was then revealed the company had agreed a deal to stock the biggest hotels in Qatar with its beer and will be showing the matches in its venues.

Queue a barrage of online call outs, accusing the brand of virtue signalling and some even calling for a boycott of its products.

Standing up or standing out

Nowadays, some brands stand for something just as a way of standing out. But the proof is in the pudding and in the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, brands that fail to live up to their words are left facing the backlash.

Whereas those that put activism at the core of their business models — not just their marketing strategies – make huge gains. For these companies, activism is part of their DNA and they do it for social good, not increasing revenue.

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