Corporate activism - the what, why and how


11. January 2023

Corporate activism - the what, why and how

Corporations are important agents for solving both local and global challenges. Companies have the influence and connections for driving change in society, but many do not utilize this opportunity.


The idea that a company's sole purpose is to generate value to shareholders is rather aged. The modern ethical transformation has reached into many industries, even ones that were thought to be unchanging. The rise of social media and the consumer demand for responsible business practices and transparency have sped up the conversaion regarding corporations' role in changing society for the better. Laying low doesn't work anymore because the companies that rise to power in this new age are the ones to write the rules of the future.

Citizens and organisations expect companies to not only do business responsibly, but also to provide societal value as well as care for the people and nature. And the bigger a company, the bigger their responsibility.

Table of contents

What is corporate activism?

Corporate activism is not a fad

How can corporate activism boost business?


What is corporate activism?

Corporate activism is corporations taking part in the social discussions without expecting a return from participating. The focus is on contributing to shared interests actively, not just when it's trendy. Since corporations are responsible for how the world currently functions, as well as how we consume things, it is only fair that we as consumers get to expect responsibility and resolutions for a better future for all of us. At its' best, corporate activism can be used to build thriving communities that drive change for the better and help individuals and social actors to come together to solve problems.

Corporate activism is deeply intertwined with corporate social responsibility. Social responsibility is the responsibility a corporation has regarding any effects they cause in society with their business. Corporate activism on the other hand is perceived more as the corporation leveraging their status and power in society to shine light on issues that demand attention. 

Welldone and continuous corporate activism can also improve employer image and financial success, but neither of these should ever be the goal when partaking in corporate activism. A way to get started with corporate activism can be for the corporation to partake in public discussions about social issues with a spokesperson or a press release. This will also help the corporation to bring forth their values in a more concrete format besides an annual report.


Corporate activism is not a fad

Consumers, or to be more exact, citizens, expect corporations to do more than produce products and services, provide jobs and increase financial stability. Citizens want corporations to be active agents in society and to drive social change. A corporations level of participation in activism is even considered an importan factor in job seeking. An increasing amount of employees want to work in companies where they can drive change for things they hold value in, be that environmental issues or social issues.

Global corporations are ahead in the race, in many countries driving social change is considered a default part of a corporation's social responsibility. On the global stage, where competition for both employees and customers is fierce, corporate activism is an important tool for standing out. However, pretty words aren't enough - people know to demand concrete actions. Accountability has become something that can make or break a business. When done strategically, it will drive growth and prosperity.



How can corporate activism boost business?

Business that only serves the purpose of generating profit is condoned less and less as time goes on. People are more willing to spend more on businesses whose ways of operation align with their values. People are also quick to take their money elsewhere should a business be found to be laundering their reputation. Because of this, for many businesses, the change towards more responsible business practices is based on a strong, financial incentive. Unethical business practices are slowly but surely being ruled out by courts, making them a financial risk. Preferably, a corporation's motive for partaking in activism should come from a honest desire to better society and to conserve our planet.

However, corporate activism is not something that can be manufactured forcibly. The motivation to change business practices to a more responsible direction has to come from within the organization - from the employees and management on all levels. Superficial activism is easy to spot and will strain the trust of consumers and stakeholders.

Authentic corporate activism presents many positive opportunities for business, including:

1. The brightest talent wants meaning for their work

Younger generations of employees, namely late Millenials and Gen Z, are known to choose their employer heavily based on their personal values and ethics, even going as far as to value social advancement over their own career development. This puts pressure on the company to adhere to ethical and responsible practices so they can attract young talent. Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study is one study that proves that as many as 3 out of 4 millenials would choose a lower paying job if the company is known to be responsible. Conversely as many as 64% of millenials would turn down an opportunity if the company doesn't have a strong vision and strategy for social responsibility.

2. Customers expect accountability

Where we spend our money is, and always has been, an ethical statement. People want to consume goods and services that are produced responsibly and don't exist solely to make the shareholders richer. The global study Edelman Earned Brand shows that 3 of 4 consumers will either choose, switch or downright avoid a brand depending on how that brand speaks about about social topics and injustices. From these consumers, dubbed "belief-driven" consumers, 67% have chosen a brand for the first time based on their public statement on a topic. Similarily 65% refuse to purchase from a brand that stays silent on a topic that concerns them.

Corporate activism will become profitable when the topics the corporation makes a stand on are important and relatable to their target audience. After all, the choices of individuals, both in people's personal lives and in business, are mainly guided by feelings and personal values. Belief-driven activities grow the commitment of both B2B and B2C customers.


3. Corporate activism builds brand image and thought leadership

Reputation and thought leadership are both important for any business. Engaging in corporate activism is a good way of improving both of them at the same time. Thought leadership should have its' foundation in a strategy and values that shareholders can relate and commit to. Perseverance and consistency are the keys to doing consequential corporate activism that improves the corporation's brand image.

However, for any public statement to hold water, the values have to be present in the corporation's everyday life. Values that are acted upon consistently will show in the outward facing activities as authenthic. Social media is an easy and low-treshold channel to communicate recent activism activies, but other channels aren't any less useful. Depending on the nature of the business, a more local approach such as local newspapers and radio and television channels may reach the audience better. 


Video is a powerful tool for corporate activism

Heineken's Worlds Apart -campaign is a good example of clever but involved video communication as well as how a company can take part in social commentary without sacrificing their own style.


The campaign shines a light on the ongoing trend of polarization and confrontational way of engaging in public discussion by building bridges between people with differing opinions. The campaign wants to showcase that despite people's differing opinions and personal biases, everyone is capable of empathy towards one another in an effort of building a more tolerant society.

Heineken's campaign was a success in both building their brand image and for their marketing - it reached far and wide on social media platforms, gaining positive feedback from many directions. The efforts also paid off in the form of increased sales.

Saatat pitää myös näistä

Opi lisää video­markkinoinnista

Vastaanota videomarkkinoinnin uusimmat tuulet ja ajankohtaiset vinkit suoraan sähköpostiisi.