While more brands are distancing themselves from contentious dates like Australia Day (26 January 26), marketing experts from RMIT say these brands remain quiet on their social alliances to avoid backlash.
As RMIT Marketing Lecturer Dr Daniel Rayne explains, the debate as to whether brands should be “social beacons” or not has again come to light as Woolworths, Kmart and ALDI have decided against stocking Australia Day merchandise.
“Brands are increasingly using contemporary sociopolitical issues as a marketing tool to stand out from the crowd,” he says.
“Normally, when brands adopt an activism strategy, they put their social support front and centre, however, perhaps driven by fear of isolating the market, big retailers have adopted a business decision focus first.
“Woolworths have adopted this ‘activism without activism’ approach, which signals how the ways brands engage in activism are constantly expanding and evolving.
“Putting business interests ahead of a firm social position makes their activism approach more palatable for shareholders.”
Also commenting on the matter, RMIT Marketing Senior Lecturer Dr Amanda Spry says as consumers become more familiar with brand initiatives that have a “social edge”, they’re able to reconcile both profit-making and social motives.
“By Woolworths publicly stating this, they are perhaps making it easier for consumers to interpret their strategy,” she says.
“The timing of such comments by Woolworths is unlikely a coincidence as pressure concerning their price gouging heats up.
“This move away from stocking Australia Day merchandise, even if temporarily, changes the discourse around the brand.
“The negativity surrounding previous attempts to show brand support to First Nations People have perhaps resulted in Woolworths adopting a new approach to their support.
“Brands will often call on social initiatives as a deflection mechanism for current and future malpractice.”