Five movements to watch in 2019

Chip Walker, partner of StrawberryFrog

Given that two-thirds of consumers (66%) say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues, it’s not surprising that companies from REI to Levi’s to Patagonia are attaching themselves to social issues like never before.

In the past several months, Gillette has aired video that was anti-toxic masculinity, Levi’s promoted gun-control, and Nike has supported black lives matter.

But which grassroots societal movements will brands help spark in 2019? Here are a few that seem to be rising, along with some predictions predictions for what’s ahead.

The pro cannabis movement

With legislative wins in Colorado and Oregon and more likely to pass in 2019, the pro cannabis movement has gained surprising momentum. In 2018, the number of US states to have legalized marijuana use in some capacity climbed to 32. According to 2018 Pew Research, 62% of Americans say use of marijuana should be legalized, up from only 31% in 2000.

How marketers are participating: White Castle, Ben and Jerry’s, HBO, Vans and Uber have been among the brands that have done marketing around 4/20, National Weed Day, in recent years. Corona beer owner Constellation Brands made a multi-billion dollar investment in cannabis company Canopy Growth, and Anheuser-Busch InBev has also invested in a marijuana partner.

What’s next: During 2019, expect to see even more marketers to jump on board supporting 4/20. We also predict that at least one brave brand will come out in support of federal legalization of recreational weed use. Hello, Taco Bell? Funyons? Cheetos?

The anti-loneliness movement

Americans are increasingly replacing physical interactions with digital ones, and it’s increasing feelings of isolation. Among teens, for example, texting has surpassed in person exchanges as the preferred way to communicate. A growing movement is seeking to address social isolation, following the example set in London where the Mayor has appointed a Minister of Loneliness.

How marketers are participating: Apps like ‘Hey! VINA’ (which has been downloaded more than one million times across 158 countries) and ‘REALU’ are solely dedicated to matching up new best friends. For a fee, NYC-based Cuddlist, will send a “professional cuddler” to those experiencing loneliness in a nonsexual way. And HearMe.app lets users share their thoughts with an attentive stranger for a weekly fee.

What’s next: While tech companies like Facebook and Apple promised their products would help connect people to each other, clearly in many ways the opposite has occurred. In 2019, expect several tech giants to make reparations and promote in person contact over virtual. Already, Amazon has started working with the AARP to test giving lonely seniors its Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers, enabling them to access their community’s activities calendar and discover cool new things to get out and do with other people.

The e-Sports movement

Some are calling e-Sports a new Olympic movement for the digital age. That’s probably not surprising given the fact that e-Sport events like the League of Legends 2018 final had more than 200 million spectators (as compared to the 98 million people who watched the 2019 Super Bowl.) Goldman Sachs’ 2018 report on the eSports industry forecasted a 450% expansion in viewership by 2022.

How brands are participating: Among the many sponsors of e-Sports are: Mastercard (League of Legends,) Marvel: Infinity War (Fortnite,) Starbucks (Pokemon Go,) and Sour Patch Kids (Overwatch.)

What’s next: In 2019, expect brands to go beyond simply paying to slap their logo onto an e-Sport property. Rather expect them to look for ways to actually improve the in-game experience

The Democratic Socialist movement

Last Summer Gallup found that Americans aged 18 to 29 are as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%). And there’s a new wave of Democratic socialist politicians – from Bernie to A.O.C. -- who wants the U.S. to adopt the social democracy of Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Norway.

How marketers Are participating: Thus far, this has primarily been a movement for political marketers. Already 2020 democratic presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren are touting ostensibly socialist themes such as re-regulating Wall Street and creating a stronger social safety net.

What’s next: For political brands -- from politicians to PACs to politicians to parties -- the run-up to 2020 will put Socialism vs. Capitalism front and center. Expect right leaners to use it as a wedge issue, and left leaners will either embrace it or distance themselves from it. For commercial brands, this movement will likely remain too hot to handle.

The data privacy movement

The push for stricter controls on data privacy in already going full force in the EU, and signs are indicating it may take hold in the US as well. A 2019 Axios survey indicates that 59% of Americans think “the privacy threat is a crisis and we need to force companies to change,” up from 51% in 2018.

How brands are participating: Brands are starting to participate, though slowly. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is looking to make not selling customer data a major selling point. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has recently claimed said the company will rebuild it services with a much higher standard of privacy. Critics have questioned the sincerity of both.

What’s next: Given the skittishness of consumer brands to align with the privacy movement, expect one of the big B2B data infrastructure players (e.g., IBM, Microsoft, Cisco) to come out of the shadows on privacy make it a national cause celeb in their 2019 marketing.

If 2019 is anything like 2018, we can expect more and more brands to activate their purpose by attaching themselves to broader societal movements. Hopefully these movements will serve as a guide or inspiration for your brand to jump in and take part in national conversation over the weighty issue of today. It’s time to get brave.

Chip Walker, partner of StrawberryFrog, The Movement Marketing Company

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.