Anyone who hopped online to buy gear from outdoor recreation giant Patagonia on December 4th, 2017 was surprised by what they saw. Instead of colorful outdoor equipment and scenic vistas, the site featured a black background with white text. That text simply stated, \u201cThe President Stole Your Land.\u201d This was a direct response to an executive order in which the president drastically reduced the size of two national monuments. And it earned Patagonia\u2019s activist CEO, Rose Marcario, the national spotlight. Of course, brand activism is nothing new for Patagonia Patagonia has supported grassroots movements for over 40 years, positioning themselves as \u201cThe Activist Company.\u201d They infamously support sustainability, environmental grants, and employee activism. And according to a recent report by Inc, their unapologetically political brand persona continues to pay off. In March of last year, Patagonia\u2019s CEO Rose Marcario reported that sales were nearing $1 Billion.\u00a0 Patagonia\u2019s super-political website declaration is a striking (and fairly extreme) example of brand activism. But the company\u2019s continued success testifies to a culture-wide shift\u2014 more and more consumers value purpose-driven companies who are willing to stand up for their beliefs.\u00a0 But what is brand activism?\u00a0 Essentially, brand activism is when a company attempts to influence social, economic, environmental, or political issues. Recent examples include a Starbucks pledge to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022, the #LikeAGirl campaign from Always, and Ben & Jerry\u2019s long line of politically-inspired ice cream flavors. While brand activism is nothing new, the majority of companies have long shied away from talking politics. After all, Jeff Cartwright, the managing director of content for Morning Consult, notes:\u201cIn today's polarized society, a brand taking a stance on a political issue has the potential to appease some but alienate many.\u201d But recent reports show that neutrality might not be an option in today\u2019s economic landscape.\u00a0 Politics are quickly becoming a necessary risk There\u2019s still debate about how and when brands should step into social and political issues. But experts agree on one thing: most brands cannot afford to be apolitical. A recent study from PR agency Weber Shandwick found that 47% of millennials believe CEOs should speak up and take active stances on social issues. Similarly, 51% of millennials surveyed said they are more likely to buy products from companies that have activist CEOs. Currently, we\u2019re witnessing the highest youth population in history. Over 50% of the population younger than 50 years old, which means finding out what millennials want and catering to those needs is crucial.\u00a0 Can brand activism save the world? Millennials seem to think so.\u00a0 Today\u2019s consumers feel more pressure to be socially and ecologically responsible than ever before. And in this time of increasingly extreme weather conditions, food and resource shortages, and global inequality, many are learning to vote with their wallets. According to a report by Nielson, 73% of millennials (now 22-37 years old and the generation with the greatest buying power) will pay more for products they believe to be sustainable. Similarly, Edelman has reported that 57% of 14,000 customers in 14 countries state that they are more likely to buy from, or boycott, a brand because of its stance on a social or political issue. How Adidas built activism into their brand\u2014 and product In 2016, oceanologists noticed a patch of fused plastics floating between California and Hawaii. The \u201cvortex of trash,\u201d which was approximately three square feet, consisted of single-use plastics\u2014 wrappers, bottles, straws\u2014 ropes, buoys, and fishing nets. Boyan Slat, the founder of Ocean Cleanup, called it \u201ca ticking time bomb,\u201d noting that the large plastics would eventually crumble down into microplastics and irreparably damage marine life.\u00a0 Three years later, that single yard of debris has become a floating trash island twice the size of Texas (or three times the size of France). The growing mass, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, stretches 600,000 square miles and contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic.\u00a0\u00a0 Recycled and recyclable running shoes When confronted with consumer concerns about the enormity of the plastic problem, many companies vowed to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics. Fitness apparel giant Adidas took their commitment a step further. They built environmental activism into their products. Adidas is a founding partner of Parley for the Oceans, a global network of creators, thinkers, and leaders from brands, governments, and environmental groups working to end the ocean plastic crisis.\u00a0 Sourcing their plastics from Parley\u2019s clean-up efforts, Adidas announced a new line of recycled, recyclable running shoes. Their initial test drop, 7,000 pairs of shoes, sold out almost immediately. Now, Adidas has announced its intention to sell five million pairs of ocean plastic shoes. At an average retail price of around $220 per pair, the brand is set to make more than a billion dollars in revenue by trying to solve one of the world's biggest environmental problems. The effort was so successful that the company has now vowed to use only recycled plastics in all of their apparel by 2024. They\u2019ve also proudly introduced the Futurecraft Loop, their first 100% recyclable running shoe. These shoes are \u201cmade to be remade,\u201d according to the Adidas landing page, which explains the process in detail. Today\u2019s consumers don\u2019t want a hero; they want to feel heroic Why has the Adidas campaign been so successful? Because they\u2019re not just doing good: they\u2019re helping their consumers do good as well. According to a 2018 Forbes report, today\u2019s consumers don\u2019t want a hero; they want to feel heroic. A recent Futerra survey of over 1,000 consumers found that 96% of people believe individual actions (donating, recycling, ethical buying) make a difference. By choosing to purchase a pair of Adidas Futurecraft Loops over a competitor brand, consumers are not only removing 11 plastic bottles from the ocean. They\u2019re also guaranteeing that plastic stays out of landfills and oceans forever.\u00a0 How brand activism supports storytelling You already know the power of storytelling when it comes to connecting your brand with the perfect consumers. But what stories should you tell? The story of how two young immigrants who turned their passion for beer brewing into a household name? How about the story of young athletes rising above their social circumstances to achieve the impossible? Or the story about threats against public lands and protecting the last of the world\u2019s wilderness?\u00a0 Whatever your political and social stance, it should support your brand\u2019s storytelling identity. It\u2019s no longer enough to sell the best product. Hanneke Faber, the President of Unilver Europe, echoes this sentiment. \u201cI grew up as a marketeer at Procter and Gamble \u2013 where it was all about superior product benefits.\u201d She says, in a 2019 interview with The Marketing Journal. \u201cTide washes whiter, and Pantene makes your hair shinier.\u00a0 That is important, but it\u2019s no longer sufficient in a time where there\u2019s so much competition. Now you need people to love you not only for what you deliver, but also who you are.\u201d\u00a0 Whatever cause you champion, make sure it supports your brand\u2019s identity Today\u2019s consumers are wary of marketing schemes and empty promises. They\u2019re looking for true activism and commitment to the well-being of their communities. When brand activism becomes less about advocacy and more about money-making, you have a problem. And your consumers are going to catch on. In a recent Forbes article, Sandy Rubinstein, CEO of DXAgency, outlined what marketing agencies should know about brand activism in 2019. One point she brings up repeatedly: authenticity is critical. She warns against knee jerk reactions and unsustainable declarations. Beyond making a statement, brands must act on the causes they champion. \u201cIt\u2019s not just that one moment,\u201d Rubinstein says. \u201cWhat are you doing to support that statement and that stance over the next 12 to 18 months?\u201d\u00a0 The future of marketing? Your brand doesn't need to show up in every social and political conversation. However, it\u2019s becoming more important than ever for brands to demonstrate how their products support their purpose. Today\u2019s consumers want to support companies that use their influence to enact social and political change. So, to answer the question, \u201cis brand activism the future of marketing?\u201d No. It is the present of marketing, and companies that haven\u2019t caught on are already living in the past.