How to create content in a stay-woke world

Learn from three brands that nail socially conscious content by telling good stories—not only with their words, but also with their actions.

BY Adam Wren
Senior Editor, Imagination

The brands we support and CEOs who lead them have taken on an unexpected role as the social consciences of our world—even while trust in institutions, politicians and traditional authority figures is waning.

The transition happened at some indelible and indiscernible point over the past few years.

Perhaps it was in the spring of 2015, when a cohort of companies banded together to force a rollback of then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would have allowed business owners to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. Nine CEOs from Indiana alone, from Anthem to Angie's List—not including conferences and companies across the nation—wrote to the governor expressing their concern about the law's impact on the reputation of the Midwestern state.

Or, maybe it was in 2017, when social media users and protesters alike drove advertisers with Fox News to cut ties with Bill O’Reilly, after numerous sexual harassment claims against him came to light.

What does our brave new woke world mean for content marketers? As consumers vote more routinely with their wallets than their ballots, it’s increasingly important for brands to stay pitch perfect and tell stories that resonate rather than fall flat.

To tell these kinds of great stories, though, companies have to live them. Like Hemingway divorced from his time in Paris or Africa, companies that overlook the authenticity gap between their words and deeds risk being posers who don’t walk the talk.

Here are three companies that live—and tell—great stories in a socially conscious world.


In Adidas’ “Create Positivity” hero film, a high school basketball team takes a stand against racially insensitive mascots such as the “Indians” by sticking yellow tape over a rival’s jerseys.

In addition to the 75-second YouTube clip, the campaign also featured a series of six digital film vignettes, as well as on-the-ground grassroots events in five cities to “shine a spotlight on how athletes change the conversation in their sport by using their creativity to bring about positivity," according to the brand. Adidas also used the #HereToCreate hashtag on social networks.

In an environment where professional athletics have become politicized, Adidas subtly subverted a stick-to-sports approach, giving athletes at every level of the game permission to show up and be heard.


At Andrei Cherny's Aspiration, the banking and investing firm, the content marketing is the product itself.

In the company’s mobile banking app, you can assess the relative social responsibility of any company you do business with, whether as an investor or consumer, through its Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM). The index measures two metrics: a “people” score, which measures how a company treats its people and communities, according to Fast Company; and a “planet” score, which, you guessed it, examines the brand’s impact on the environment. Both metrics grade the companies on a scale of 100 points, and each month, you can ascertain how much you’ve spent with them. The company eschews investments in controversial funds such as the Dakota Access Pipeline in favor of supporting the redwoods, for example.

"A lot of that went into creating Aspiration, with the idea that if you founded a financial firm that was helping to drive sustainability and conscience, you’d be able to have a big impact," Cherny told Fast Company. “And AIM is a manifestation of that: If people can start thinking about the impact of their daily spending on people’s lives and the environment, we can really force companies to start paying attention.”

It’s not only the social responsibility index that drives Aspiration content strategy. To buttress its financial products, the firm features practical, educational content on its website aimed at helping customers with sustainable investing, banking, retirement and other topics.


B-school students, political scientists and crisis managers will be studying Patagonia’s content and social pressure marketing campaign to protect public lands for decades to come. Content marketers should, too.

When the Trump administration announced it would reduce the acreage of national monuments in Utah by millions, Patagonia sprang into storytelling action, redesigning its website to display a stark message in black and white: The President Stole Your Land. In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.”

In sync with its lawyers, who filed a lawsuit against the move, as well as its social media journalists, Patagonia mounted a cross-channel program against the federal government's move within hours of the news. It even created a microsite allowing concerned citizens to see which other federal lands were threatened.

It’s not just Patagonia’s rapid response content game that matters. The story it's telling in the lawsuit against President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke isn’t just for the press. It’s a cause the company has been living out since 1973, when it was founded by Yvon Chouinard, a mountain climber who fashioned gear that left less of an imprint on the rocks he ascended. The outdoor gear company has buttressed its content with a microsite that allows customers to connect locally, on a grassroots level, to like-minded causes. You can search by your city or ZIP code, and then select the issue you want get involved in on a local level, from climate to water issues. In the past, the company even created a documentary film against damming rivers.

Patagonia’s content resonates because it’s true to the brand. It’s woke because the company's woke, not because it's trying to be.

published: June 07, 2018

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