S3 Logo

Brand Activism – Should You Do It?

Brand activism isn’t for you? Then your brand may not be for some big consumer groups…

Following yet another mass shooting in our country, Toms – the shoe brand that was a pioneer in the “buy one, we donate one” movement – took another major step toward brand activism.

As Huffington Post and virtually every other news outlet reported, The Toms Company is donating $5 million (the largest corporate donation toward ending gun violence). But it takes more than donating money to make your brand an activist brand – and Toms is really doing it. They are mobilizing their social and customer network around a new postcard campaign to End Gun Violence Together, which combines digital and traditional media in an activist tour-de-force.

It takes fewer than 60 seconds to fill in your name and address on the form resident on Toms’ website – then the brand prints and mails a pre-written postcard for you. They’ve removed all the obstacles: looking up the right person to send it to, finding their address, figuring out what to write, putting on postage, and getting to a mailbox.

Next Level Activism

Yes, Toms has taken on all of that legwork, responsibility and cost. That’s impressive. And you know what impressed me even more today, when I went to their site to take advantage of this opportunity to have my voice heard?

Today is Black Friday. This is the biggest retail week of the year. But instead of seeing shoes for sale all over the homepage, I saw this:toms brand activism


Wow. Donating an enormous amount of money. Creating a next-level postcard campaign to reach reps. Taking over your own virtual storefront. Toms has all of the activism bases covered.

What about the risk?

Brands are often afraid to align themselves with a movement that can be seen as aligning with a particular political direction – which, these days, is almost anything. I believe that when brands mean something bigger than themselves, they mean more to consumers – and while that may polarize consumers, it can also help prevent the dreaded commodity status, where the only way to win is to be the lowest-priced offering.

Naturally there are many factors that should be considered before a company decides to become an activist brand. With Toms, though, the risk was greatly mitigated by many factors: 1) they already stand for giving back (buy one, give one); 2) the brand’s fans wear Toms shoes as a badge of honor, supporting a give-back company; 3) 90% of Americans support the idea of requiring background checks prior to gun purchase (which is the main message of the campaign)… clearly, the odds are in favor of a positive ROI. Add to that the tremendous PR value of the countless news stories and the mobilization across social media, and this is an incredible example of what it takes to be an activist brand.

Will there be backlash? There always is. Will some people stop buying Toms shoes – and encourage others to do so? Could be. Does Toms care? It doesn’t seem like they do, which is exactly what makes this so authentic – and why it will be so successful.


How Do We Use A.I.?

Reworld New World

Sustainability Waste Solutions Leader Taps S3 for Relaunch Campaign