Why Hiring An Activist-Influencer To Merely Tick Your Ethical Boxes Is Not Okay

In 2017 The Guardian wrote an article entitled ‘Sex doesn’t sell anymore, activism does.’ Whilst brands are attempting to outdo each other with apparent acts of mega generosity, the catch is that they’ll only do so if their customers are watching.

Supporting the latest activist trend and boosting diversity  has become a box ticking exercise – that influencers are being coerced into enabling

It’s 2019 and Pride Month is now in its 50th year, yet attacks and aggression targeted towards LGBT+ people are arguably worse than ever. We are living in a world where the mainstream media often questions the validity of teaching the existence of LGBT+ people in schools, and gay women are assaulted in public for refusing to kiss for straight men. That’s why it came as welcome news when the NSPCC announced they would be working with Munroe Bergdorf, a black trans activist with incredible influence, to bring hope and comfort to many children suffering as a result of LGBT+ issues.

Just a few days after the NSPCC announced that they were appointing Bergdorf in her new role as the face of an up and coming Childline LGBT+ awareness campaign, Janice Turner who is a journalist and columnist for The Times (a newspaper becoming notorious for its transphobic agenda), tweeted at the NSPCC, stating:

“Hey @NSPCC can you please explain why a children’s safeguarding charity has hired a porn model as a Childline ambassador? It’s an astonishing decision. Is it worth the cancelled direct debits?”

Bergdorf has never worked in the porn industry, and the “porn” that accusations are referring to, is a mature piece of journalism written by Playboy in reference to her consistent fight for trans-inclusive rights. Supporters of Bergdorf also pointed out that the NSPCC has previously worked with models who have done glamour shoots very similar to those taken by Playboy of Bergdorf.

Turner’s tweet and Bergdorf’s response caused a storm on Twitter, rallying transphobic activists to apparently send letters, emails and social media responses to the NSPCC, resulting in them bowing to pressure and deciding to cut ties with Bergdorf; the NSPCC said Bergdorf “has supported the most recent phase of Childline’s campaign which aims to support children with LGBTQ+ concerns” but she would have “no ongoing relationship with Childline or the NSPCC”.

The problem here, of brands who are keen to merely tick boxes when it comes to being ethically viable by supporting activist trends, is definitely not a new one. The presence of social media in our lives has boosted this faux activist or ‘clicktivist’ environment that sees brands promoting political social trends for the hell of it, but it has also made the marketing world far more transparent. Everyone is so set on being the most woke brand on the internet, that there is no room for humility when a brand does a good deed. It’s not good enough for brands to be launching campaigns with token influencers for box ticking purposes, or jumping on a bandwagon when it comes to LGBT+ rights, if they are not true allies.

It’s difficult to separate the merit in brands showcasing social responsibility, from the fact that they ultimately just sell product. So, how can brands launch activist campaigns that authentically support the agendas they wish to stand up for, using influencers as role-models for substantiation, whilst not coming across as hollow or patronising? It’s a tough nut to crack and sometimes examples are easier to live by – so here’s a list of three brands who not only sell great products using authentic influencers, but can call themselves activists.

    1. TOMS Shoes – TOMS are the shoe brand who give a pair away to someone who needs them, when you buy a pair for yourself. They have giving built into their core, and are activists through and through. They recently launched their biggest always-on, long-term influencer marketing campaign, with three activist-influencers that will see positive community based work taking place all over the world within the next year.


    1. Patagonia – Patagonia, like the other two brands listed, have been unapologetically political since the beginning. What makes Patagonia unique though, is what goes on behind closed doors. Patagonia are constantly fighting to defy ‘slacktivism’ – aka, signing up but not showing up – and for almost 40 years they have supported grassroots activists working to find solutions to the environmental crisis. If you head to their website, you’ll see they’re making considerate efforts to connect people to their grantees, in order to take action on the most pressing issues facing the world today.


    1. United Colours of Benetton – UCB follow the golden rule: have a purpose and be authentic. Before it was trendy on Instagram, UCB waded into brand activism as early as the 1980s by targeting health, politics, and racial topics. Between 1982 and 2000, Benetton’s Art Director Oliviero Toscani’s stark and confrontational photographic campaigns aligned the brand with topical social causes that gave them the authentic persona to continuously build on the brand’s underpinning values, whilst striving to contribute to the creation of a new cultural movement against hate and discrimination