TBWA’s cultural insight studio, Backslash, today released a report identifying a new modern era of American activism, coined Pan Activism. In a nationwide research study, conducted with strategic brand research consultancy Hall & Partners, it was found that 85 percent of Americans took some form of activism in the past year, such as conversing with those who have differing beliefs or donating to a local business or national tragedy. The findings indicate that modern activism is no longer defined by fringe groups with singular big battles but it is more mass and characterised by small, everyday actions.
“When we discovered that more than half of all Americans believe that activism has come to mean more things in the past year, we knew we were on to something,” said Sarah Rabia, Global Director of Cultural Strategy for Backslash, part of advertising agency TBWA Worldwide. “Today, we are all activists. On many sides. Every day. We call it ‘Pan-Activism.”
As a cultural insight studio, Backslash monitors cultural shifts and translates the implications they can have for brands. The report is a culmination of Backslash’s cultural research, ethnographic filmed interviews with four different type of activists today and the study which polled more than 2,000 adults of a national representation of age, gender, region, ethnicities, income levels and political affiliation.
“What really struck us is how much the everyday actions that people report having taken vary in intensity, scale and impact,” said Jenna Lauer, Managing Partner of Hall & Partners Los Angeles. “Some actions reflect how normalised the anger in our national discourse has become. Other actions, like no longer communicating with a family member, are deeply personal. We think it’s more important than ever to explore these changing behaviours to identify ways to build more meaningful relationships with people in a modern, fractured America.”
The report analyses the cultural shift to Pan-Activism and attributes it to Americans feeling their beliefs are constantly under attack in an era where politics have become ingrained in pop culture. How consumers choose to express their beliefs is also under fire, as even silence is seen as complicity with no neutral middle ground. To help brands understand these issues, the report outlines four macro-behaviours: conserve, collaborate, conflict and convert.
Conserve: Preserving one’s power, retreating or resisting. Over-saturation of opinions is causing people to retreat and focus inward on their own health and well-being. The study found one in six Americans have stopped using social media because of the impact it’s having on their mental or emotional health.
Collaborate: Connecting with or understanding ‘others’ to find a balance or commonality. While 2017 was a year of polarising news headlines, Backslash predicts 2018 will be the birth of the Empathy Age as there is a new mass behaviour of Americans demonstrating radical empathy for the other side. In fact, 45 percent of Americans said in the past year they had an open conversation with those who have differing opinions, while 26% took steps to learn about beliefs of a group with whom they disagreed.
Conflict: Opposing, fighting or preparing for attack. Forty-eight percent of Americans said they took some form of action to protect themselves, their families or their beliefs. Consumers are using the power of their wallets to take a stand against companies who don’t align with their political or social beliefs.
Convert: Influencing people or channeling money and resources into impact. Sixty-one percent of Americans took action to impact their cause, such as making direct donations or by purchasing from local vendors to infuse money directly into their communities.
“The way brands react to these new emerging consumer behaviours must reflect the shift toward Pan-Activism. As American activism has become more multidimensional, brands will need to be more nuanced in their response,” added Rabia.
With the paradigm shift in American activism, brands are left to navigate the changing landscape and further define their purpose. There is more pressure than ever for brands to understand activism today knowing that most of their customers are likely some form of activist. To that end, Backslash identified a few key takeaways for brands as they attempt to navigate this new uncharted landscape:
Apolitical Humanity: Just be human. Being an activist brand doesn’t mean you have to be political. In fact many consumers are in need of a detox from the overstimulation of political news. Empathy and the human touch is apolitical but can be a welcome form of resistance and respite consumers are actively seeking out.
Build Bridges: Right and left, people are trying to connect with others to gain a stronger understanding of the other side. In this spirit of collaboration and tolerance, brands can also look inward and challenge their own perspectives on competition, diversity and truth to demonstrate empathy.
Brand Battleground: Consumers of all political affiliation are using brands to demonstrate their beliefs and there is a growing backlash to those encouraging gentrification. Brands have an opportunity to think hyper-local, respecting ethnic origins and supporting the communities in which they work.
Instant Gratification: Activism has become a form of pop culture and consumerism. People want to see the result of their actions and feel rewarded, however small and brands are well-positioned to facilitate this. Brands have the opportunity to go beyond ads and take action to address a cause. Programs like mentorship, incubating or lobbying show consumers their commitment to bettering the issue.
Backslash predicts that the shift toward Pan-Activism will force brands to rethink not just their marketing, but what their brand stands for in the changing cultural landscape. The full Backslash Pan-Activism report, including more in-depth methodology, can be seen at https://activistamerica.tbwabackslash.com
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