When internet trolls and populists try to take over the conversation, the circumstances change for everyone who has something to say. It also means that companies must look over their communication. Here are five tips for brands that want to show the world what they stand for.
Some companies have become weary of talking about values after the US election, because they can be perceived as taking a political stance. It is no longer uncontroversial to say that human rights are good or that climate change exists. It might seem safer to rely on your good reputation, without standing out.
But it doesn’t work that way anymore. The wave of misbelief that suddenly wells through also hits companies and brands to a larger degree. Different studies, such as the Edelman Trust Baromoter, show that the level of trust has decreased substantially for companies worldwide – and also for other important institutions such as governments, media and NGOs. This, in turn, places new demands to actively prove your credibility.
That’s why many companies choose to take a clear stand instead. The Super Bowl ads have probably never been as politically charged as they were this year. For instance, Budweiser celebrated migration and the construction firm 84 Lumber received great attention for their film about building walls.
Such campaigns speak straight to the heart and create true engagement – but only if they appear genuine. To be able to discuss values, companies must do their homework and think about what they truly stand for. Here are five tips for how companies can make a real difference.
1. Take a stand.
Talk through which values actually motivate you. At the very least, it’s important for many employees to know that their employers won’t back down from such things as human equality. Starbucks is a company that has garnered major attention for their way of talking about that. It’s also an important discussion to have with clients. Spoon Oslo’s Agency Director, Marte Ramborg, recently received great feedback for her opinion piece in Dagens Näringsliv.
2. Sustainability reporting.
A good way to work with company values is through sustainability reporting. In Sweden, sustainability reporting will become mandatory for companies over a certain size as of this financial year. Similar laws already exist in Denmark and Norway. But even those who don’t need to do it could still benefit from a simplified report to develop their aims and values.
Spoon has produced a sustainability report guide, which you can download here.
Even companies with the most outstanding values sometimes happen to pass on prejudice and stereotypes of pure routine or thoughtlessness.
Spoon’s gender guide is a good aid to help those who want to avoid getting stuck in clichés. You can check it out here.
The opposite of stereotypes is of course not to make a thing out of for instance an even gender balance – it should be a given that requires no further mention. An interesting example is Google, which received harsh criticism a few years ago for sharing stereotypical doodles, but these doodles eventually reached a considerably more exciting expression.
4. Be prepared for backlash: part one.
Reality is rarely simple and that’s why there are often lively debates when companies take a stand. Be prepared for that and think about which tradeoffs you’ve made. Please train the ethical compass by analysing the messages that have stirred debate recently. For instance, the film ‘I am Danish’ has prompted strong emotions since it shows children who become sad when the interviewer questions if they are truly Danish.
There has also been praise and criticism for a campaign made by the Swedish football association and Adidas, where the women’s team played in jerseys marked with printed tweets instead of their names. Did the campaign make the players more or less visible?
Even Nike has started an Equality Initiative to support women’s sports, yet part of the campaign Pro Hijab stirred both positive and negative reactions. Among the critics, there are those who think that it gives a stereotypical view of Middle Eastern women.
5. Be prepared for backlash: part two.
These days, messages about human rights and equality will most likely wake up evil trolls. The hatred campaign against the Swedish warehouse Åhléns serves as an example. The company showed a dark-skinned boy dressed up as Saint Lucy. Consider what might happen to individuals, especially if children are involved. Have a plan in place to tackle potential sh**storms. And learn how they work – at the very least, it’s important to understand that it might be caused by only a few but well-organised extremists. The magazine Expo has mapped how the hatred towards Åhléns was organised.
We live in a day and age where everyone needs to think about what they stand for.