Brands and Digital Activism: A New Era?

Advocacy Online
5 min readDec 23, 2020


*This blog is a project for Study Unit MCS3953, University of Malta*

I am sure that most of you have noticed that recently brands are venturing more into the world of digital activism. Brands are looking more into selling the product or service in a way which is different from what customers are used to. It can be said that nowadays, the social media world is seen as “a hub of creative cultural influence and complex research methods…as identities and consumerism continue to converge, advertising is entering an era in which social relevance will be essential to success” (Brand Activism: Working Towards Progressive Representation of Social Movements in Advertising, 2018).

Digital Brand Activism

Brands nowadays are choosing to incorporate digital activism in their advertising campaigns — and may I add, it’s a breath of fresh air! Apart from showing their customers the efficiency and ability of their product or service, brands are looking into showing off their brand values to secure the success of their company. They do this for various reasons and in various ways which we will be discussing in this blog!

Right now, major consumer brands have united and joined Stop Hate for Profit. According to, “Stop Hate for Profit is an ongoing campaign to hold social media accountable for hate on their platforms. Social media companies must prioritize people over profit and they must do it now.” They continue by saying that “with the support of more than 1,200 businesses and non-profits and countless consumers, we sent a clear message to Facebook in July 2020 with our ad pause: stop valuing profits over hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism, and disinformation.” This campaign statement is a bold one and not one anyone could simply ignore!

Stop Hate for Profit Campaign

Amongst the brands which have joined this campaign are Adidas, Lego, Levi’s, Starbucks and many more! In my opinion, by participating in this campaign and standing against hate speech online, these brands are assuring that when they purchase their product or service, they are investing in a company which has good morals and values.

As we have previously discussed in other blog posts, according to Blumler and Katz, the Uses and Gratifications Theory states that the user has five simple needs and two of them are personal identity and integration & social interaction. By not putting any advertisements on Facebook, these companies are actually attracting more attention to themselves. But why? The reason for this is because according to Blumler and Katz, the audience love when media products create a topic of conversation and in this case the topic of conversation is hate speech!

Speaking for myself, I would much rather invest in a company which is willing to use its social media platforms to advocate against any online abuse rather than one who would rather stand by and just make profits. In fact, after conducting several analytics on the vitality of social activism, Phillip Denis (2020) argues that the “majority of consumers demand brands to be vocal.” He continues by saying that “from the topics of diversity and inclusion within the luxury and beauty sectors, to sustainability in the automotive industry — brand reputation is directly lined with its approach to corporate social responsibility.” I mean, who could blame the consumer? With such a big social media presence, it is only right that brands own up to their responsibility to be the voice of those who choose to invest in them!

However, according to Casey Newton (2020), these brands, speak as if Facebook does not ban any hate speech. He continues by saying that wanting “‘more enforcement’ — is so vague as to be nearly meaningless.” These brands are advocating against hateful online content however Facebook’s policy on hate speech states that “we do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.”

However, the real question is: is Facebook really living by this statement? It is for this reason that it is so important that these brands fulfil their responsibility and hold Facebook accountable! This responsibility is oftentimes referred to as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the industry. The United Nations Industrial Organization defines a CSR as being “a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with the stakeholders” (United Nations, 2007).

One brand which comes to mind when I think of activism in advertising campaigns is definitely Benetton. According to Shaun Morgan (2018), this company has been involved in brand activism since the 1980s and has targeted topics such as health, politics and even race.

Personally, I think that Benetton’s Art Director Oliviero Toscani’s work on campaigns which associated the brand with topical social issues are absolutely brilliant! In fact, as a Benetton lover and consumer myself, I feel very proud knowing that I am supporting a brand who uses its social media platforms for good! His work is shocking and sure to grab anyone’s attention. Amongst his work and one of my personal favourites are “three raw hearts labeled separately as ‘white’, ‘black’ and ‘yellow’ all portraying a ‘one-world’ theme” (Morgan, 2018).

Benetton Campaign Designed by Art Director Oliviero Toscani

Apart from these photographic campaigns, Benetton have also created The Unhate Foundation. This online foundation aims to advocate and fight against discrimination and hate in all of its forms, to support new generations and let them be significant and the spreading of the social impact of Art.

After reading about brand activism, I have really opened my eyes and changed my perspective on the concept of branding. Often, when we speak of branding, our minds usually shift to brand colours and other things which have to do with the aesthetic and the superficial. However, we rarely — or never think of the brand values of the company. I hope that after reading this article you realise just how important it is that brands encourage their consumers to support and talk about important topics through digital activism!

Reference List:

  1. Stop Hate for Profit. (2020). Stop hate for Profit. Retrieved from
  2. Phillip Denis. (2020). Social activism will change how brands do marketing. For good. Retrieved from
  3. Casey Newton (2020, Jun 30). The Facebook boycott advertisers have the right company but the wrong diagnosis. Retrieved from
  4. Unknown Author. (2018). Brand activism: working toward progressive representations of social movements in advertising. Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved from
  5. Shaun Morgan. (2018, Feb 21). A brave new world: the story of brand activism and the audience who expects more. Retrieved from



Advocacy Online

Two Communications students studying at the University of Malta who are fascinated by the power of the online voice!