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How a company is publicly perceived has always been key to its success. Going beyond the basics of brand image — like logo, website design and social media — what a business stands for and what it values are essential to building brand loyalty.
With the rise in millennial consumers, establishing your brand’s social corporate responsibilities is now more important than ever. We’re seeing a growing trend of young individuals actively aligning themselves with brands that share common ideals, while boycotting those they view to be on the opposing side. But why should brands care?
In a 2020 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 50% of the working population was composed of millennials; they’ve either just started working or they’re trying to build their own businesses. The percentage of millennials making up the workplace is expected to rise to a whopping 75% by 2033. This means millennials are the demographic businesses should be paying attention to when it comes to having a direct effect on their bottom line.
Last year, the millennial population was expected to spend over $1.4 trillion USD according to the 5W 2020 Consumer Culture Report. The same article reported 83% of young people spending with brands that share their values, 76% wanted CEOs of companies to speak out on the issues they care about, and 65% noted they would actively boycott brands who took opposing views.
While we might make fun of millennials for being the avocado toast-loving, oat milk latte-drinking “snowflakes” they have been so labelled, we cannot ignore what makes that generation unique: they just really care. Being part of a generation where the information has become so accessible, it’s easy to see why millennials have become so passionate about social justice issues.
With just a swipe on Instagram or a click on Facebook, millennials are able to inform themselves on environmental topics like sustainability and climate change, to political and social movements, including Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate and #MeToo.
Earlier this year, three American women were accused of appropriating Chinese culture, when they redesigned mahjong tiles to “give them a fresh look.” The Mahjong Line was selling the sets on their website for $325 – $425 USD and marketing the products as “not your mama’s mahjong,” according to The Insider.
Eliciting strong criticism from many young people on Twitter and Instagram, they later took down their social media accounts and apologized. Not only did the brand appear to profit off Chinese traditions, but the company seemed insensitive to the troubling anti-Asian sentiment around the world which proved fatal to their business.
In contrast, corporations that have chosen to speak up on political issues widely supported by the millennial generation have yielded rewards. During the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, Nike released an ad featuring former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who was blacklisted by numerous team owners for taking a knee during the national anthem. The Guardian reported that not only did the ad win an award for outstanding commercial at the Creative Arts Emmy, but also saw Nike’s stocks rise by 5% following the video’s release.
One company that has undergone massive shifts in brand identity and messaging is Victoria’s Secret. Just a decade ago its annual show which often featured white and thin angels was once considered the paramount of female beauty. Today, this no longer rings true, with many young women labelling the brand sexist and outdated.
Throughout the years, the brand made active efforts to address the representation issues. First, headlining Chinese model Liu Wen as their first Asian model in 2019. Then, Maria Borge became the first black model to wear her natural afro on the runway in 2015. Four years later, Victoria Secret would appoint their first-ever transgender model Valentina Sampaio. Yet, despite these attempts, the company would continue to lose sales year-on-year.
It wasn’t until 2021, after receiving massive criticisms about their reported misogynistic work culture, that the brand underwent a dramatic rebranding in hopes of winning back young female customers. Reported by NBC News, Victoria’s Secret unveiled the VS Collective, composed of seven women including a soccer star, a plus size model and an activist, and introduced a new predominantly female-led board. Most recently, the brand launched a new collection featuring a diverse group of women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities.
In case you missed it, check out our story about about the power of influencers.