Born in 1958, I came into this world at the end of the 'Baby Boomer' era. Yes, I can remember the civil rights movement of the 1960's, Vietnam, the Middle East crisis, the Gay Rights Movement and so on. But until recently, I was unaware of the 'Woke Culture' movement, and honestly, what the hell it really is.
So, I began looking.
The best place to start is with the definition of 'woke', not in the traditional sense, but in the connotation of what the word now describes. 'Woke' is a term that has come to mean an awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice [see, e.g. "Stay Woke: The new sense of 'woke' is gaining popularity". Words We're Watching. Merriam-Webster, December 26, 2016.]
From February, 2012 through April, 2015, a series of events rallied attention to the treatment of young black Americans by police sparking an explosion in equality and social justice activism. Specifically, in the summer of 2013, the hashtag #blacklivesmatter was born urging people to stay woke and be conscious of race struggles (this followed the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of black teen Trayvan Martin).
By September of 2016 the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' had been tweeted in excess of 30 million times. The use of the phrase 'stay woke' likewise gained traction and grew to become a symbol of movements and activism. 'Staying woke' became the catch-phrase for various burgeoning activist groups such as: #blacklivesmatter - fighting racism; the #Metoo movement - fighting sexism and sexual misconduct; and, the #NoBanNoWall movement - fighting for the rights of immigrants and refugees.
**CORPORATE AMERICA AND 'WOKE CULTURE':**
"The phrase ‘Get woke, go broke’ originated after a paper by John Ringo was published online in 2018 that refers to the rise of organisations using politically correct actions as part of their strategy, only for that to result in a massive loss of income because they have abandoned mass reach."[The Chartered Institute of Marketing. "When brands go woke, do they go broke". https://www.cim.co.uk/exchange/editorial/when-brands-go-woke-do-they-go-broke/#:~:text=The%20phrase%20'Get%20woke%2C%20go,they%20have%20abandoned%20mass%20reach. (Accessed May 5,2021)]. Ringo's paper has long been deleted from the internet, but excerpts may be found at: Internet Archives - Way Back Machine. https://web.archive.org/web/20190831205807/https:/www.dangerous.com/43569/author-john-ringo-responds-sjw-assault-led-sci-fi-convention-ban/. (Accessed May 3, 2021).
Corporations always look for ways to create an attachment with their target audience as a matter of course in marketing. So with the rise of 'wokeness', they saw the opportunity to extend beyond the adoption of human traits as a marketing strategy only to adopt human behavioralism or activism in its place. Four examples are in order:
September 2018, Colin Kaepernick was revealed as the face of Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign. In response, consumers burned Nike products and vowed never to purchase Nike branded items again. Coinciding with this Nike's share price dropped - a mere 3%. Fast forward two years and while it can not be attributed to the Kaepernick campaign, **Nike stock reached and exceeded its all-time high.** So apparently Nike's 'Dream Crazy' advertising campaign did not hurt the company one bit.
In 2017, Pepsi launched its Black Lives Matter campaign with Kendall Jenner at its center. Let's face it - this was bad, really bad. This campaign has been categorized as a graduate course in what not to do in advertising. The campaign was pulled from use due to public criticism and outrage.
Did this advertising failure tank Pepsi, well, obviously not. Pepsi's stock price was barely affected and thereafter, Pepsi reached and exceeded its all time highs.
Gillette was responsible for the toxic masculinity advertising campaign ‘We Believe: The Best Men Can Be’ which aired in January 2019. Immediately thereafter, news outlets, industry blogs, and subreddits were all a buzz with news that Gillette was taking a writedown of $8 Billion and attributing the same to the advertising campaign.
However, these sources failed to account for the men's grooming market's decline in 11 of the preceeding 12 quarters. Nor did they account for Gillette's CFO insights that the writedown was mainly attributable to currency fluctuations and market decline. Nonetheless, 18 months later, P&G, Gillette's parent company, was merely trading a few cents below its all time high - certainly not broke.
A diversity training program instituted by Goodyear permitted employees to wear 'Black Lives Matter' and/or 'LGBT' apparel in the workplace but at the same time banned 'Blue Lives Matter' and 'MAGA' apparel. Stock in Goodyear immediately plummeted 6% but has since recovered with no long term adverse effects.
Use of woke culture activism by Corporations through their advertising campaigns and internal corporate policies is extensive. The four examples set forth above are hardly a scratch on the surface of this phenomenon. In the wake of anti-police protests across America, cable network A&E cancelled the show 'Live PD' cutting its prime-time audience in half with the worse ratings figures falling within the most desirable age demographic for advertisers. Movie franchises were also not immune. All-female lead remakes of Ocean's 11, Ghostbusters, Star Wars and Terminator were all box-office flops. There are enumerable examples present throughout the American corporate landscape not presented herein.
So what is the final take from the foregoing? The 'get woke, go broke' paradigm is a myth. However, that is not to say that corporate America can not learn from its conceptualization. Established brands lacking a clear moral purpose behind their advertising are perceived by the present cynical public as inauthentic - basically lecturing morality while failing to practice what they preach.
Customers will continue to react negatively if a familiar product takes a sudden and unexplained turn to identity and race politics in its advertising. The culture wars in America are far from over and corporations must exhibit caution when choosing sides.
Going forward, there is a need for corporate advertising to balance their activism with less polarizing customer engagement. In today's world, you would be hard pressed to find a corporate brand that is not purpose driven. But to be purpose driven, a corporation will be forced to live it's values. When the time is right, it is critical for corporations to clearly show it's customers that it is adopting a stance to demonstrate that it is on the 'right' side of history. To sit back and do nothing is unacceptable. With present consumers being more socially conscious than ever, the corporations that stand up for what is right are better positioned to succeed in the future.
I am merely an ordinary small investor who likes to share what I've learned and found interesting. Please take a few minutes and check out my other published articles. I am not in any way a financial advisor and as such, do your own research before investing. If you enjoyed this article please like it, comment and/or tip. Feedback is always welcome here.