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Campaigning for the right reasons - marketing campaigns vs “advocacy” campaigns

Illustration © Zach Sebastian

Illustration © Zach Sebastian

A thought piece from our Head of Impact Partnerships, Josie Parmee

I’m on a mission to harness the power of brands to add genuine value to societal progress, whether that be social or environmental. Why? We’re facing unprecedented times - a climate and environment emergency has been declared, displacement is a threat for more and more communities, civil space is increasingly restrictive, regressive girls’ and women’s rights, etc. - the need for everyone, brands included, to take action, has never been so urgent. So when it comes to brand activism, I’m increasingly interested in the apparent confusion between marketing campaigns and advocacy campaigns. 

Advocacy is a broad term that employs a range of activities to achieve a desired outcome. The outcome is generally a change within society which impacts a social or environmental issue i.e. a change in legislation or a change in accepted behaviours. Successful advocacy is informed or led by those most affected by the issue and matches the call for change with supporting evidence.

An essential part of advocacy is campaigning, mobilising others to get involved and work towards the desired outcome together. Strength in numbers! For the purpose of this blog I’m calling this an advocacy campaign so as not to be confused with a marketing campaign.

A marketing campaign is an organised course of action to raise awareness of the brand and to promote and sell a product or service.

Advocacy campaigns aim to encourage people to feel strongly about the issue and to take action with the collective. An advocacy campaign may include a range of activities such as meeting with decision-makers to influence, commissioning research to evidence your case or protesting to increase urgency. 

Some cracking examples of brand activism which include an advocacy campaign are: 

  • The Body Shop’s Forever Against Animal Testing - On a mission to ban animal testing globally, The Body Shop campaigned to secure 8 million signatures in support of the ban. The result? The vast volume of signatures achieved recognition of the petition by the United Nations. The Body Shop then employed a strategy which targets national bans in order to achieve the global ban country by country. 

  • Patagonia’s Blue Heart - Patagonia, in partnership with grassroots activists and NGOs, are using everything in their power to stop investment in projects which damage the the Balkan River in Eastern Europe, the Blue Heart. As well as employing a range of activities - such as film, exhibitions and bringing grassroots activist groups to the EU parliament - Patagonia campaigned for signatures to mobilise more support from their audiences. 

So it’s simple, the difference is in the end goal of the campaign. Advocacy campaigns strive to change society whereas marketing campaigns aim to increase profit. 

Don’t let marketing be the sole driver of your brand activism - brand activism isn’t about driving engagement with your brand, it’s about acting out your advocacy strategy and advancing your societal goal. You act as an advocate for those most affected by the issue so collaborate with them and/or give them a platform and, most importantly, ensure your business activity does not cause harm to those you’re striving to support. When developing your advocacy strategy, be diligent to keep your messaging simple and execute each action while keeping in mind what you want your audience to know, feel and do. Couple this with innovative and captivating creative and you’ll genuinely add value to the movements you’re striving to support.

If you need a helping hand, get in contact with the TCO London team, we can help you through every step, from insights, strategy and partnerships to content creation, activation and distribution. 

Not ready for brand activism but want to make a positive impact? Progressive storytelling, telling the stories that challenge harmful attitudes and behaviours, is your subtle but effective opportunity and can be done as part of your marketing campaigns. I’ll unpack this approach in the next blog.

To get in contact with Josie, please email josie@tcolondon.com.

Bindi Kaufmann