Gone are the days where companies sit on the fence and remain apolitical. Consumer preferences (or should I say demands?) have shaped the way companies react to socioeconomic issues and for ‘good’ it seems to be staying this way. This blog post is about companies reacting and listening to the market, when they market. From the 1990’s Fair-trade movement to present day’s #DeleteUber campaign, to coffee companies pledging to work against the Trump Administration’s blatant discrimination of refugees, Brand Activism is the new black.
EurepGAP and Fairtrade
The 1990’s were a pivotal era in shaping the policies of businesses involved in agriculture. For example the European Retail protocol for Good Agricultural Practice (EurepGAP) was established, a consumer driven code of conduct introduced by European retails chains for sourcing their produce (this may explain why the EU is much more “forward” than Australia in terms of sustainable produce sourcing). The EurepGAP included assessments on agriculture practices and social conditions.
The Fairtrade movement also shaped social responsibility programs for many large roasters. Today Starbucks and Nespresso have their own sustainability programs and it is likely that these programs have been developed in response to consumer lobbying, campaigning and concerns.
Trump, Uber and Coffee
In his first week of administration, Trump signed an executive order banning people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen (mostly Muslim countries) from entering the US.
In response, the New York Taxi Worker’s Alliance asked their taxi’s to avoid JFK International Airport (between 6- 7pm) in protest of the ban. On the other hand Uber allowed surge prices (it’s automated) to facilitate travel to and from the airport. (Surge prices is where your Uber fare rates increases because there are more people using the service, so in a supply/demand situation, the less Taxi’s there are at the airport, the more Uber drivers can “Surge”charge clients). This situation, alongside Uber CEO Travis Kalanick being named as one of Trump’s economic advisors, was seen as Uber “endorsing” Trump’s immigration ban and profiting from it too. In protest, this triggered the #DeleteUber movement where 200,000 Uber app users deleted their account.
Lyft, one of Uber’s ride-sharing competitors pledged to donate $1 million over four years to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and quickly moved up from #39 to #4 on the ITunes download ladder. The ACLU works to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” (The ACLU is involved because of religious discrimination – seven banned countries are largely Muslim)
No doubt, Lyft’s timely pledge gained them support from sharing economy #DeleteUber users looking for a ride sharing service that “aligns” with their ideals.
In the coffee sphere, Starbucks announced that it was “developing plans” to hire “10,000 refugees over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business,” with various coffee companies pledging to donate to the ACLU.
The M word
So what’s going on in the waters? Consumer’s and millennial’s are becoming more brand aware (they’re also better at smelling bullshit). So not only do they want their coffee to taste delicious, they also want to know that their purchase is “making the world a better place.”
Millenial’s strive for a purpose driven career, where doing your 9-5, five times a week no longer drives them. They want to make a positive impact at their place of employment. With this in mind, if you’re telling this generation that (quality remaining constant) bag A is a sustainably sourced coffee from Honduras that works to support the livelihoods and communities of an impoverished community, with bag B coming from a large family owned estate in Colombia, that has developed a reliable income source, with a flourishing community. Eight times out of ten, these guys will choose the Hondurans.
Stand for something
Brands, now to stand out, need to stand for something. Sitting on the fence (like Uber not responding to the Taxi strike in a timely manner) makes you look like you have already chosen a side.