By Vicky Bullen, CEO at Coley Porter Bell


Trump’s new administration, and immediate flurry of executive orders, have been greeted by a wave of international protests and outrage. However, one of the great things we’ve seen on the back of them - whether in response to the proposed travel ban, or the Women’s Marches - is the sheer creativity on display in the sea of millions of homemade banners and posters. From puns, to poetry, the best of the bunch have been heralded as clever, insightful and powerful, with many questioning whether advertising and branding industry experts could have produced any better.

‘We are now living in the age of protest’, according to lsn Global’s Backlash Brands report last year, and it is more important than ever for brands to sit up and recognise people power. We’re already seeing some brands put their political stake in the ground when it comes to their creative, but will they behave differently?

What’s your purpose?

Brand purpose is the bedrock of brand identity, but the idea of brands having a purpose, might soon have to evolve. Rather than just a purpose to support, they will now have to have a real cause to fight for.

Across the world families and communities have been torn apart by increasingly polarised ideas, many of which call into question the very core of what is deemed acceptable - not only as a society, but as humans. Many brands in the past have been passive and silent on where they stand on some of these bigger, more divisive issues; favouring ‘being something to everyone’, rather than rocking the boat and alienating swathes of consumers. However, there is no room for vagueness in the new world. Brands have to pick a side, and they have to show (in every aspect) that they mean it.

Respect... and lack of it

Millennials respect brands with a strong attitude. They may not agree with everything you say, but they appreciate brands that have their own point of view and aren’t afraid to express it. As Patagonia’s founder Yvon Choinard said, ‘if you’re not pissing off 50% of people, you’re not trying hard enough’.

I’d argue that the most interesting thing we’re starting to see, is brands opting to side against the establishment and instead stand with the ‘liberal rebels’. Arguably the world’s biggest stage, the American Super Bowl, saw brands such as Budweiser, Airbnb and Audi, openly defy and challenge Trump’s behaviour, personality and policies.

Although Budweiser has faced backlash from Trump supporters already, it’s a brave move for a car brand like Audi to distance itself from Trump’s rhetoric on gender and equality, when one of the President’s core messages has centred on boosting the American car industry. 

The creative frustration won’t end here...

FMCG has been paving the way as a disruptive sector for years, by putting their money where their mouth is and funnelling cash into brand friendly charities and causes; but we’ll see more brands - across all sectors - needing to show that they’ve also got skin in the game.

Proctor and Gamble, Netflix, Airbnb and Apple have all taken a stand in defiance against Donald Trump’s recent executive orders; showing that even the biggest corporations feel a responsibility and duty to be the guardians of what is morally acceptable. Filtering this down into action and creative output is certainly achievable in the immediate, but the challenge is to maintain it in the long run. Only time will tell if it remains part of their core business objectives.

In today’s brave new world, the next generation of socially responsible consumers will soon default to the good cause and good brand over just good brand; and having a clear and meaningful purpose will become the cost of entry rather than a differentiator. From veganism and cruelty free, to gender equality and the Syrian refugee crisis, if you are a brand that doesn’t have something to say, you’re not going to mean much to anyone.

This blog was first published in The Huffington Post.