What Is Wokewashing, and How Can Your Brand Avoid It?

Marketing and politics can no longer be kept separate from one another. Maybe they never could. Either way, brands have woken up to the fact that modern consumers desire more than simply a product.

They want a brand that actually has principles and values. In a recent report by PR agency 5WPR, 83 percent of millennial respondents want companies whose values align with their own, and 76 percent believe executives should speak out on issues they care about. 

Moreover, a further 65 percent said they have boycotted a brand that didn’t share their beliefs on an issue, while 62 percent favor products that allow them to show off these beliefs. 

Millennials now have the greatest buying power of any generation. Combined with Generation Z, which shares many of their values, the total spending power of millennials, according to real estate firm Coldwell Banker, will top $68 trillion by 2030. In short, it’s a generation you want to learn how to market to if your business is going to thrive.

However, you need to be careful that when you adopt a particular stance on an issue, your business’s behavior actually aligns with that stance. You cannot, for instance, support Pride Month if your business allows franchise owners to discriminate against transgender individuals. You cannot claim to support movements such as Black Lives Matter if your hiring practices and internal culture aren’t supportive of black people. 

There’s a term for this lack of alignment —for the cognitive dissonance created by a business that says one thing and does another. Wokewashing. At its most basic, it’s when a brand treats a sociopolitical issue as a marketing opportunity without actually supporting it. 

As reported by The Guardian, it happens a lot. We see it in major brands that release Pride-themed products one month of the year, and then promptly forget that the LGBTQIA+ community exists, even openly operating in markets that openly hate homosexuality. We see it in businesses that challenge misogyny while maintaining a toxic workplace culture that doesn’t provide paid maternity leave. 

The good news is that it’s relatively easy to avoid this pitfall. Simply fall the old adage practice what you preach. If you’re going to support a cause, actually do it. Don’t just treat it as a marketing opportunity or a singular advertising campaign.

Seek partnerships with charitable organizations. Have serious conversations with people within your business who have direct stakes in the cause you’re supporting. In other words, make an active effort to be better

At the end of the day, social good should never be treated solely as a means of selling more products and services. Your business and its people need to want to do good. Because if you don’t, every effort you make will come across as hollow.