Diana Marszalek 14 Sep 2018 // 4:14AM GMT
SINGAPORE — With Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign making waves, speakers at the fifth Asia-Pacific IN2 Innovation Summit Tuesday in Singapore embarked on a wide-ranging discussion about brands taking stands — and what it takes to get succeed in this regard, even if that means losing support from some quarters.
“We have to debunk the idea that this is about being warm,” Text100 executive director Rod Cartwright told a crowd of more than 160 attendees. “Human needs and wants and values need not be just the emotional ones. They can be hard and rational and business focused and divisive.
At the same time, though, it’s critical that brands taking stands on potentially divisive issues do so because it’s driven by core company beliefs and values — like Nike did by using Kaepernick and Delta did earlier this year cutting ties with the NRA, costing the airline Atlanta airport tax breaks.
“This isn’t about CSR or even purpose. It's what do you fundamentally believe in, and that could be hard or divisive,” said Cartwright.
Fellow panelist Lena Goh, Temasek’s director of public affairs, agreed that authenticity is imperative. She noted that despite the Nike campaign inflaming opponents of the 'take-a-knee' movement Kaepernick launched, the company did not stray too far its comfort zone — among the reasons the brand looks set to come out of the controversy ahead.
The larger question for companies that take positions, including Nike, she said, is what comes next. Will they be taking action to support their causes?
“Are they setting the expectation that instead of just selling really nice training shoes they are going to be an ideological force…creating initiatives that will address societal problems?” Goh asked.
Only time will tell. Regardless, though, it also takes guts, Cartwright said — much like it does for brands to recover from crises, even if it means having to say they’re sorry. “It takes bravery for communicators and marketers. And it takes bravery for executives to accept that bravery,” he said.
All of which was in keeping with the larger theme of the discussion — the importance, even in the midst of today’s technological revolution, of communicators helping brands to connect with stakeholders in a person-to-person manner rather than ceding to technology and scientists. “They are not wired to communicate in a human way,” Cartwright said.
It’s also critical, however, that brands do so in ways that are real and consistent — or risk losing their credibility with consumers altogether, said Cartwright, who doesn't buy the idea that some brands are more human than others.
"Every brand has the potential to do it brilliantly, and then in a blink of an eye undo their good work," he said.