Woke capitalism.
Who cares?

René Spaanderman

Man the barricades! Shoppers of the world unite! Now 'woke' consumption is completely socially acceptable. In fact, as a non-activist consumer, you do not matter anymore. Social media is today's banner, and the debit card is the weapon to force large multinationals to their knees. Aren't they?

Okay, maybe not. As consumers, how many large companies have we really forced to their knees in recent years by protesting with our wallets and social media profiles? Yet there is now a new generation of consumers who like to parade their social engagement and activism.

And so brands are falling over themselves to convince us consumers of their social motives. From Nike's striking campaign with the kneeling NFL star Colin Kaepernick to Gillette's half-baked “The best men can be”, brands seem to be looking for the right way to nail their social colours to the mast.

In the wake of positive and negative responses to various 'woke' campaigns, behavioural scientist Clay Routledge posted a Tweet that precisely exposed the nerve of this paradoxical new brand strategy:

“We are living in an era of woke capitalism in which companies pretend to care about social justice to sell products to people who pretend to hate capitalism”

Are brands in business to do good, or is it hard business and do they do 'good' to increase that business? And, as shoppers, do we sincerely want to support the initiatives of brands that openly nail their colours to the mast, or are we simply buying off our guilt?

It's easy and perhaps justified to be cynical. Nevertheless, I welcome the development that brands actually express their brand purpose, or at least look for it.

Of course, not every brand can be the next Patagonia (“We're in business to save our home planet”), but it's worth praising the fact that brands are investing in things that can actually make a difference. From Adidas' plan to manufacture 11 million pairs of shoes from recycled ocean plastic in 2019, and Tony Chocolonely's slave-free chocolate to Lego's plant-based products and Dove's struggle for body positivity, there are fortunately more and more (commercial) initiatives that are making the world a better place, albeit with doubtful and tiny steps.

Be that as it may, businesses are usually in business for the sake of business. But if they do good in the process, we could all benefit. Stay woke.

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