How to avoid woke-washing when marketing your business' corporate social responsibility

plain jane pr woke washing

What is woke washing?

Woke washing is simply using social justice as a marketing strategy. And it’s everywhere.

Think… Coca Cola NZ and how they can speak (not so) fluent Te Reo all of a sudden. Or Nike, who recently decided supporting Colin Kaepernick and race equality was more valuable than billions of dollars in revenue. Or even on a smaller scale when your favourite supermarkets have decided to ban plastic bags!

Photo credit: Twitter user @  waikatoreo

Photo credit: Twitter user @waikatoreo

Why do brands woke wash?

The population is ageing and millennials are about to be in the driving seat, making the big decisions with their wallets. Some brands are trying to change their marketing to attract this younger audience.

In a December 2015 Nielsen study, 73% of millennials studied said they would spend more on a socially responsible, or sustainable, brand. This is compared to 66% of all people surveyed.

With this fact in mind, its no wonder woke-washing is becoming the biggest trend in marketing.

What’s wrong with woke washing? This sounds great!

It all sounds great, right?! Business should definitely get behind causes they care about!!

Except when they don’t care at all.

Coca Cola didn’t actually care about correctly printing in Te Reo. They printed “Hello, death” instead of “Hello friend”.

Nike still use sweat shop labour - 80% of workers are women of colour who are forced to illegally work more than statutory 48 hours per week.

Supermarkets have banned plastic bags… at the checkouts. Never mind the plastic wrapped individual pineapples, coconuts, bags of chips, bread, meat that’s first sat on plastic… etc.

Tips on how to avoid woke washing while marketing your CSR

  1. Believe in what you’re marketing

    It’s easy to jump on a trend and make a big noise about it, but if it’s something your company doesn’t genuinely believe in, or if your other practices go against this message - people will see right through it.

  2. If you’re joining a public discussion about a group you, or the majority of your team, don’t belong to - run it past a test-group first

    If your team is made up of predominantly white, middle class men and women (as most creative agencies are) and you’re about to do a campaign targeted at a group you don’t identify with - take a step back and call in some people to bounce ideas off. It’s much better to spend a few hours before you go live bouncing ideas off a test group than putting it out and receiving major back lash - think Kendall Jenner and Pepsi #blacklivesmatter.

  3. Look inward

    Simply do a stocktake of what your brand has talked about before and what you are doing now. Researching inwards will let you know any potential potholes in your marketing and allow you to plan for the worst. For example, the NZ supermarkets would have known they’re selling plastic wrapped fruit and could have put in motions to get rid of, or reduce this, ahead of their checkout ban.

How can Plain Jane help?

Plain Jane is a boutique communications consultancy, supporting brands that give a damn. If you are going to launch a new campaign and fear it might be woke washing, get in touch.

Let’s have a free 15-minute chat and I’ll help you out!