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A look at 2017’s Cannes Lion winners makes one trend evident: advertising that champions social issues are among the industry’s most celebrated.

The Wall Street art installation Fearless Girl won 18 lions, including four Grand Prixes and a coveted Titanium Lion. The installation, created by McCann New York on behalf of their client State Street stands defiantly in front of the iconic Charging Bull statue to bring attention to Wall Street’s gender gap. Other Grand Prix winners included a campaign for Boost Mobile that brought attention to the lack of polling sites in low-income and minority-dominated neighborhoods, and a campaign from Whirlpool to provide low-income schools with washing machines in order to increase attendance.

Brands championing social causes is nothing new. Coca-Cola’s 1971 Hilltop ad celebrated multiculturalism simply by offering the “buy the world a Coke.” And more recently, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has challenged our perception of beauty and celebrated women of all shapes and sizes.

Tapping into our desires for change can be transformative – if it’s done right. If not, it can backfire spectacularly. Here’s a few ways to ensure you do it responsibly:

Keep it Authentic

Even big brands can get this wrong. Pepsi recently learned this lesson the hard way with their Live for Now video featuring Kendall Jenner. In short, it tried to champion ALL causes instead of specifying one. And by featuring a model/reality star as the protagonist, “inauthentic” is one of the nicer things said about it.

Champion Causes Close to Your Business

If you want your campaign to seem authentic, keep it related to what you do. Few people are going to question a sporting goods store building baseball fields in low-income neighborhoods or a grocery store chain working to feeding the homeless.

Weave Activism into Your DNA

Ben and Jerry’s recently instituted a rule for some of their Australian stores that banned customers from ordering two scoops of the same flavor – at least until same-sex marriage becomes legal. This didn’t raise much ire from their customers because Ben and Jerry’s has been an activist brand since their founding. It’s simply part of who they are.

ben and jerry web snip

Still Unsure? Be Apolitical

According to a poll conducted by CivicScience, 67% of Americans do not think brands should be involved in politics (the exception: brands that cater to a younger demographic.) If you’re not sure a more controversial topic is right for your organization, find a cause that nobody can argue with – ideally something with low awareness or a cause that’s significantly underserved where your brand can make a real impact (see the whirlpool example above.)

Partner with a Non-Profit

The easiest way to stay authentic? Partner with someone who is. By working with an outside organization, you can prove to customers that you’re not just talking the talk. Customers can be sure the non-profit is holding your business accountable while you can rest assured your contributions of time/money/media are being used wisely.

Dave Rombeck

Author Dave Rombeck

Dave is a Senior Copywriter at InQuest Marketing. He writes compelling copy for a diverse portfolio of clients and enjoys getting to learn about each specific industry. As an adrenaline junkie, Dave is our resident skydiver and bungee jumper. He home brews his own beer and loves every kind of seafood.

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