To launch its new Insight division, London agency TCO has published a report: Beyond Brand Purpose: The Future of Brand Activism. This all-encompassing but accessible piece literally sprung to life in London yesterday morning, as some of its contributors had gathered at members’ club Mortimer House to share insights and learnings with an audience of about 60 marketers from different industries. The panel members were: Rhodri Evans, Levi’s European Brand Engagement Manager; and Tom Kay, Finisterre Founder; Ed Shepherd, Ben & Jerry's Head of Activism and Jessie Macneil-Brown, Body Shop’s Head of Global Activism.


Before the panel talk commenced, Helen Job, TCO Head of Insight, kicked off the proceedings with a lively presentation on the art of brand activism and how to get it right (and what to steer clear of). Job stressed the importance of helping to educate consumers, also highlighting that collaboration is key – guarding your secrets closely won’t win you any fans these days, and lack of expertise could potentially render your activism campaign useless. The cross-pollinating of ideas from different industries – or the same – will benefit all parties involved. Job gave the joint effort between arch rivals Starbucks and McDonald’s as an example – together, these perceived rivals have joined forces to find a way to make the disposable coffee cup fully compostable, inviting start-ups to get involved in order to maximize the chances of success.


As for fashion activism specifically, Job highlighted Burberry’s ongoing arts and culture program as an example of how a brand can help make a difference.  Burberry’s four-year initiative sets out to establish how deep experience of the arts from a young age can have a positive effect on children’s education. It was instigated as a reaction to the UK government’s continued slashing of arts funds.


Next, the panel went on to illustrate how brands and companies are taking on different approaches.


Said Tom Kay of Finisterre: “Our approach to activism is quite emotive, and being a surf brand, we’re trying to connect people to the sea. We recently took a ten-year-old boy surfing, and his mum rang us three weeks later saying he hasn’t stopped talking about his experience. Hopefully surfing will become an important part of his life, inspiring him to help protect the sea – perhaps even becoming a bit of an activist himself in the future.”


Meanwhile, Rhodri Evans, Levi’s European Brand Engagement Manager, described the denim player’s definition of brand activism as quite soft: “Any form of brand activism we decide to pursue has to be aligned with our values – Levi’s is a brand for everyone. Our ties to music are part of our heritage, and our ongoing Levi’s Music Project provides access to music in an era when resources are lacking and music is low on the curriculum. Aside from these types of projects, which see us partnering with artists across the globe, we wouldn’t shy away from taking a stance if issues arise that need discussing – our CEO Chip Bergh has spoken out about gun control in the US, for example.”


Evans also stressed the importance of approaching brand activism as more than a one-off gesture of support. “Levi’s has a long history of fighting for the underdog. We’re lucky to have gained trust from the pride community, for instance, and we take this trust very seriously. It’s not about hanging a rainbow flag on the door certain times of year, you have to show ongoing support, working alongside the community to establish what’s important to them.”