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Brand Activism: communication and marketing in wartime

In the early morning hours of Thursday, February 24, the Russian army, at the behest of its President, began the offensive against the neighboring Ukraine, thus sanctioning the beginning of the conflict that will be remembered as the “first great world hybrid war”, a clash that takes place on two different fronts: one physical and one digital. This last aspect, in particular, represents a completely new scenario compared to the classic concept of war clash to which we were accustomed.

In a globalized and increasingly interconnected world, in fact, social media play a strategic role even in the midst of a conflict: on the one hand, they play a strategic role in disseminating and conveying useful and reliable information; on the other hand, brands, through communication campaigns and digital marketing initiatives, use social media to take the field in support of the Ukrainian people, strengthened by the great media impact they have.

Before looking specifically at the moves taken by companies in the face of the war in Ukraine, it is necessary to shed light on the meaning of the concept of brand activism. We can define brand activism as the commitment and involvement of a company towards one or more causes of social, environmental, political and economic relevance demonstrated by a company through communication campaigns, projects and initiatives useful to outline its corporate diplomacy. All this, in the eyes of the community, serves to shape and build a true brand identity, on and off line, a key element that greatly influences the corporate image.

In this scenario, there are many strategies adopted by companies to express solidarity and support for the Ukrainian people, who find themselves having to face an unprecedented emergency on the front line. Let’s see them in detail:

  • Restrictions and censorship: social platforms were the first to mobilize in this sense. Meta, for example, has set up a fast-checking task force able to control the information circulating on its channels, increasing security for the accounts of its Ukrainian users. Moreover, it has removed the possibility for Russian media accounts to create ADV, limiting all forms of monetization; Twitter has limited access to its app in some areas of Russia and, above all, has tried to give more visibility to messages addressed to Ukrainian people, creating a real “real-time chat”; YouTube has restricted the visibility of Russian content in Ukraine, as requested by the Ukrainian government itself, to avoid exposing an already struggling population to manipulative Russian storytelling, suspending the monetization of Putin’s government channels; Google and Apple Pay have suspended their activity in Russia; Google, finally, has obscured the geolocation of Ukrainian users.
  • Solidarity initiatives: Airbnb has immediately made itself available to host Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war; McDonald‘s has announced that it will donate ready-made food (water, vegetables, fruit, sandwiches, eggs, salads etc.. McDonald’s has announced that it will donate ready-made food (water, vegetables, fruit, sandwiches, eggs, salads etc.) to be distributed to Ukrainian refugees and has temporarily closed its 850 restaurants on Russian territory; KFC has opened the doors of its restaurants to prepare food to support Ukrainian militias and hospital staff on the front line of the conflict; Elon Musk (CEO of Testla and SpaceX) announced through a tweet that he has made available his super-fast internet service Starlink to the entire Ukrainian population; the phone company Iliad has decided to zero the cost of calls to and from Ukraine to encourage contacts; Wizz Air has instead made available 100. 000 free seats on continental flights departing from countries bordering Ukraine; Ferrero has taken action to help its Ukrainian employees to reach safe zones.
  • Suspension of relations: Microsoft has decided to definitively interrupt commercial relations with Russia; also Apple, through the declarations of its CEO Tim Cook, has decided to boycott the Russian economy by suspending sales in the invading territory; the technological giant Samsung, which holds the majority share of the Russian market (30%), has decided to interrupt the supply of products and services to Russia and to donate 6 million euros to the Ukrainian population; also the major high fashion brands have decided to temporarily suspend the sale of their products on Russian soil: among the main ones are Chanel, Gucci, Balenciaga, Prada, Moncler and Bottega Veneta.

These are just a few examples that highlight how companies, through brand activism and a valid communication strategy, can achieve goals and results that are useful not only for company growth, but also and above all for the well-being of the entire community.

All initiatives and, consequently, the news related to them have nowadays an amplified media resonance and, if not managed properly, can worsen the reputation of a brand, negatively influencing potential customers. Companies cannot afford to underestimate this aspect and that’s why relying on an agency like Mediability is the winning strategy to build and optimize every phase of a brand communication.


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