“Authentic brand activism” is an under-researched area of study, and it suffers from a clear lack of understanding concerning the effectiveness of its practices. This study aims to assess how consumers’ evaluations of a brand regarding brand reputation, competence, credibility, and benevolence affect consumers’ brand trust and brand loyalty. This research focuses on the Italian brand “Libera Terra” (“Free Land”), an organisation that uses assets confiscated from the mafias for the production of environmentally and socially sustainable agri-food products. Based on a sample of 366 randomly chosen consumers in a supermarket in the urban district of Bologna (Italy), the results show that consumers’ perceptions of brand performance contribute to their perceived levels of brand trust. The brand trust subsequently impacts consumers’ brand loyalty. This research confirms that alignment between an organisation’s values, business practices, and marketing strategies ensures that authentic brand activism is effective, highlighting the need for businesses to consciously adopt brand activism and avoid “woke washing” practices. The theoretical and managerial implications arising from this research are also presented.
Organisations taking a stand over potentially divisive topics have been growing in recent years (Starbucks and Nike are just two famous examples). This phenomenon, named “brand activism”, has not been the subject of many research papers. However, the attention paid to brand activism is growing due to current market trends, which see consumers focus on the brands they use, giving preference to those whose values fit in with their values and identities . Brand activism is commonly accepted as a vehicle that aims to promote change (i.e., social, environmental, or political) and, as a result, seeks to improve society . Different angles of brand activism have emerged in existing research, including free speech boundary work ; social justice branding ; brand activism change agents ; brand political activism ; anti-brand activism ; socio-political activist brands ; and authentic brand activism . Thus, the topic has experienced a surge in research seeking to clarify its characteristics, typologies, and boundaries.
Nevertheless, researchers agree on one key feature of brand activism: i.e., the potential risk of alienation for consumers whose views oppose those supported by the brand. Indeed, in this case, the levels of consumer-brand alignment may be low, potentially leading to negative repercussions on attitudes, intentions, and behaviours . The same authors have also empirically demonstrated that the effects of brand activism are asymmetric. When consumers disagree with the brand’s supported stand, the impact on attitudes and behaviours is greater than in the opposite case—i.e., when consumers support the socio-political issue discussed .
7. Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
Although this is one of the first pieces of research to study authentic brand activism empirically, it is necessary to acknowledge some limitations that may have affected the findings. First of all, this research was carried out based on a non-probabilistic sample; thus, results cannot be generalised. Therefore, future research should be carried out through probabilistic sample designs that would allow for more generalisable results. Second, the sample consisted of consumers aware of the “Libera Terra” brand; this does not mean that they were all-consuming products of the “Libera Terra” brand at the time of the study or prior to it. Hence, future research should investigate the perceptions of current consumers of the brand. In addition, it would also be worth researching differences in the perceptions and behaviours of consumers and non-consumers of the brand. It would then be possible for us to understand the factors that impact the consumer’s choice as to whether to select these types of brands, i.e., whether the organisation’s social and/or environmental issue is the main factor explaining the choice of non-consumption. Third, no data were collected to assess respondents’ values in this research. Thus, future research should embed into the proposed theoretical model of the constructs related to personal values, thereby assessing how similarities/differences between an individual’s and a brand’s values impact the level of brand trust and loyalty in the case of authentic brand activism. Fourth, only one driver impacts brand trust in this research, but it is impossible to state whether this construct is applicable to other forms of brand activism. Hence, future research should be carried out on other types of brand activism to understand whether brand performance is the main driver of brand trust or whether the single dimensions of competence, credibility, benevolence, and reputation impact brand trust.