Perfomative Activism

Daniel Han
June 23, 2021

Can activism be bought? Throughout the year, companies seize opportunities to use that time of year to make relevant marketing decisions. As social justice continues to go mainstream, companies have increasingly used these social movements to sell their products or services. Some brands have taken part in social activism, radically changing their messaging or brand ethos to improve an increasingly skeptical consumer sentiment. With June being Pride month, many brands’ marketing efforts are focused towards Pride and the LGBTQI+ movement. 

Marketing with Pride month in mind is no issue. However, there is often a disconnect between a company’s action and words, when the company claims to support one cause while acting against that same cause in other contexts. This disconnect is called performative activism, and it’s everywhere this month. Let’s take a look at Disney, for example. The following is a tweet Disney put out on June 1st of this year:

This tweet means well, and the message behind the tweet is sweet, too. However, one has to consider Disney’s actions, not just its words. Last year, Disney removed scenes of a same-sex kiss from the latest Star Wars films in China, Singapore, and South Korea. The above tweet means well, sure, but it rings hollow when you look at how Disney actually acts. Creator of the Disney Kids TV show “Gravity Falls”, Alex Hirsch, describes it best: 

In simple terms, performative activism is when actions and words don’t align. 

So, how can a company avoid performative activism in its own marketing strategies? Be authentic. While authenticity may appear as the biggest “buzzword” in today’s world, it is truly what Gen-Z craves the most. For brands, being authentic means truly acting upon its mission/vision/values, listening to their consumers, changing with the times, and most importantly, being consistent. 

If your actions aren’t consistent with a social movement like Pride, act differently. If they are, that’s great - although, there is always more to be done. Whatever it is that you do, stay consistent in your branding and marketing. Put your money where your mouth is; doing this when so many companies aren’t will do wonders in winning the trust and loyalty of Gen-Zs.