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Brands Taking a Stand: Authentic Brand Activism or Woke Washing?
Journal of Public Policy & Marketing  (IF4.5),  Pub Date : 2020-08-14, DOI: 10.1177/0743915620947359
Jessica Vredenburg, Sommer Kapitan, Amanda Spry, Joya A. Kemper

In today’s marketplace, consumers want brands to take a stand on sociopolitical issues. When brands match activist messaging, purpose, and values with prosocial corporate practice, they engage in authentic brand activism, creating the most potential for social change and the largest gains in brand equity. In contrast, brands that detach their activist messaging from their purpose, values, and practice are enacting inauthentic brand activism through the practice of “woke washing,” potentially misleading consumers with their claims, damaging both their brand equity and potential for social change. First, the authors draw on theory to inform a typology of brand activism to determine how, and when, a brand engaging with a sociopolitical cause can be viewed as authentic. Second, a theory-driven framework identifies moderate, optimal incongruence between brand and cause as a boundary condition, showing how brand activists may strengthen outcomes in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Third, the authors explore important policy and practice implications for current and aspiring brand activists, from specific brand-level standards in marketing efforts to third-party certifications and public sector partnerships.