Activism: The New Branding?

In Chapter 5 of “Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society”, the author Tim Jordan inadvertently brings to attention the brilliance of large corporations’ marketing scheme. After years of protest against Nike’s use of sweatshops to manufacture its products, Nike, facing heavy critique especially from cultural jammers, began to post provocative messages and “jam their own billboards” (Jordan, 112). Slogans like “The most offensive boots we’ve ever made” were plastered for the public, and Nike began to copy cultural jammer’s own techniques of pasting their own messages over distasteful advertisements. But Nike did not stop there. It was claimed that Nike even commissioned writers to post criticisms of the company. The whole issue became so complex that it became difficult to discern genuine activism from calculated publicity stunts.

It truly is clever for these large corporations to take public condemnation and make it work for them. How much more attention did Nike get as a result of this campaign? More importantly, how many more satisfying clinks to Nike’s coffers were heard as a result? At the end of the day, this is what matters most. But it is a terrifying thought that corporations can now counterfeit activism or provoke activism from the public in order to be more noticed. This makes me wonder if we need to be more mindful before we snatch up our pitchforks and protest signs and head to the rally we heard about through Facebook, before we share articles on social media about the injustices of companies as a show of solidarity. Maybe this is exactly what the company wants. Has activism become a vehicle for marketing?

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