Corporate Activism

Should Corporations be involved in social activism?

30 years after Nike’s inception of its now iconic “Just Do It” Slogan, the brand decided to celebrate not just its slogan, but furthermore Colin Kapernick – an African American athlete who pioneered kneeling in protest to police brutality. The ad depicted the Kaepernick’s vision of “believ[ing] in something … even if it means sacrificing everything”, which influenced and propelled his kneeling movement.

Inevitably, the campaign entitled “Dream Big” was met with backlash and celebration – some lauded the brand for supporting the activist, whilst others saw it as an attack on patriotic values. However, it is impossible to oversee just the scale of the impact which Nike has made by its ad – it amassed $43 million worth of media coverage in the first 24 hours it was released, has reaches millions and has even won an Emmy.

This is just one example of corporate activism, which will undoubtedly only become more
commonplace as brands begin to align themselves with social values, raising the question: should
corporations really be involved in social activism?

Although it is undeniable that corporations do benefit from corporate activism, Nike’s campaign
ultimately highlights the efficacy at which corporations are able to engage with corporate-backed
activism in order to create change. Nike was able to earn revenue and concurrently promote
Kaepernick’s movement, thus showcasing that a corporation can both earn revenue whilst still
promoting social causes.

Furthermore, Nike fundamentally supported Kaepernick’s vision and leveraged its position as a mass retailer and cornerstone in pop culture in order to support the fight against police brutality. Whilst the 20th Century used celebrities and Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, who “spent decades championing the fight against HIV/AIDS and the stigmas, inequalities and societal injustices endured by the LGBTQ+ community”, to spread awareness and drive change, the 21st Century has simply seen brands assume this role alongside celebrities.

Although, to an extent, Nike’s advert does encourage passive forms of activism such as clicktivism – in which people simply ‘like and repost’ without actually engaging in any change – there is an extent to which these forms of activism do further the ideals behind social cause. After all, they utilise social media to its full potential to garner a larger audience, who can create meaningful change. One example with which clicktivism has proven to act as a catalyst for change is the formation of community protests for Black Lives Matter – individuals were connected to each other through the power of likes, which consequently spurred real social change. It was through clicktivism, once thought to be passive, that these integral movements gained the media and societal recognition they deserve.

In saying this, it is still imperative to remember and not neglect the role of clicktivism in building
complacency – after all, clicktivism cannot replace true change, it is just the mechanism as to which this change can be made accessible to a larger audience. Corporate activism should not and can’t assume the role of spurring all activism, but with how large of a stakeholder companies are in the 21st Century, their influence is too great to ignore or exclude in the future of social activism.