Time for brands to get off the fence?

Katie McQuater is magazine editor at The Drum. As well as editing the monthly print edition of the magazine, she writes features for the publication and contributes opinion pieces in her leader column. She tweets @KatieMcQuater.

Women's March on Washington, 21 January 2017

As the latest issue of The Drum was going to print, the 45th president of the United States was being sworn in on the steps of the White House, which he followed with a speech describing an America ravaged by ‘carnage’, invoking a spectre of nationalism and the carnage that caused in Europe in the early part of the 20th century. It was a victory for isolationism, jingoism, and a sign of our times.

Yet long before the new president had a chance to warm his seat in the Oval Office, the seeds of resistance were growing. The Women’s March on Washington, on 21 January, became a global movement of not only women but all those uniting in the support of inclusion, of marginalised people, people threatened by the rise of far-right politics, the many ‘others’ of society.

People turned out in their droves to make a stand, and what stood out was not just the size of the crowds gathered in cities around the globe, but their creativity, ingenuity and even humour in the face of such adversity. Armed with handmade signs reading ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun(damental Rights)’, ‘Pussy Grabs Back’, and ’99 Problems And This Bitch Is One’, creativity emerged once again as a powerful means of resistance.

Indeed, since Trump rose to prominence on the back of a campaign fuelled by inflammatory tweets that even our greatest satirists would have struggled to dream up, the creative community has responded with its own brand of nihilistic humour – the only way of dealing with their sense of disbelief. And, as we saw in the UK after the spike in hate crime that followed the vote for Brexit, creativity can unite people and give tolerance a voice where governments cannot.

There is an opportunity, too, for brands to decide what purpose they can serve and where they can add value to people’s lives in a world rife with divisions, as we explore in our feature on brand purpose post-truth.

James Turner, founder of Glimpse, a creative collective for social good, says: “It might feel like a big chunk of the country is slipping into xenophobia and nativism, but there are millions of people out there who reject those ideas and want to see brands reflect their values. It’s time to get off the fence. Those that do will be rewarded.”

Airbnb is one such company to weave purpose into its strategy. We interview marketing chief Jonathan Mildenhall in the latest issue of The Drum about how an insight into what young people want is driving the brand’s future plans – it’s about experiences, not ownership.

And with fake news leading many to question the role outlets like Google and Facebook play in how we consume information, we catch up with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to find out how the site rigorously fact-checks to ensure all sides of a story are represented.

In times of uncertainty, creativity and authenticity – values many businesses claim to live by – become ever more crucial. But rather than just talking about it, perhaps 2017 is the year we’ll finally see more brands taking a stand.

This leader article was first published in The Drum's 25 January issue.

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