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The State of Moral Marketing

How can brands create meaningful campaigns that connect with their audiences and their values? We share best practice, using examples from some of the best campaigns of recent years.

REPORTThe State of Moral Marketing

In a landscape defined by a lot of choice and a lack of loyalty, brands are looking for new ways to connect with their consumers. A drive for authenticity is seeing company values appear more and more in marketing campaigns, which often attach brands to a position on the big issues of the day.

With a whole lot of political anger and activists divided across many lines, it’s a risky strategy – though, as we’ll see, it might be a risk worth taking.

Consumers are no longer just satisfied with just a product or service – they want to know where their money is going to and whether or not the brand they’re buying from is compatible with their lifestyles and values.

In this guide, we’ll cover the following:

  • What is moral marketing?
  • How can brands achieve effective moral marketing?
  • Examples of brands that have incorporated moral marketing
  • Best practices for brands looking to start or expand on their own moral marketing campaigns

Overview of moral marketing

A brief history of moral marketing

In the history of brand marketing, the goal has always been to attract consumer attention and entice them to take an action. To do so, brands go to great lengths to create appealing marketing campaigns. Throughout history, they used glamour, they used humor, and they used celebrities. More recently, they are using morality.

One of the best known of these campaigns comes from Nike. The company made a huge splash with their Colin Kaepernick ad, where Kaepernick, known for kneeling to protest police brutality and systemic racism, stated, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

And there are far more examples of moral marketing springing up all the time.

Different types of moral marketing

Of course, there are many different types of moral marketing. Prominent topics include safe workplaces, cruelty-free, racial diversity, veganism, feminism, eco-friendly, sustainability, and LGBTQ+.

We looked at the brand-related conversation to see which topics resonate with consumers most.

Overall, conversation has grown significantly since 2010. Back then, there were around 2 million posts about moral marketing topics. In 2018, that number had grown to 4.7 million.

There was a slight dip from 2010 to 2014, then a massive resurgence from 2014 to 2015, driven in large part by consumers’ demands for LGBTQ+ friendly brands.

From then on, there was steady growth of conversation around moral marketing topics. And given the current cultural, political, and social climate, it looks like moral marketing is here to stay.

Examples of moral marketing

There are many ways brands can approach moral marketing. Here are a couple, with some examples.

Celebrity/influencer partnerships

One method is by working with celebrities and influencers who are known for embracing a cause that’s consistent with what the brand is promoting. Celebrities and influencers wield a lot of power that can generate interest for brands.

Of course, these partnerships have to be strategic and targeted carefully. But plenty of brands are partnering with celebrities and influencers to successfully achieve their moral marketing goals.


One example is Converse working with Miley Cyrus, an outspoken vegan pop star, to promote their vegan line.

Converse’s decision makes sense – the brand appeals to a young, socially conscious crowd. The star fits the bill with their vegan activism that they promote heavily on social media.

Mentions of Converse and Miley Cyrus

Source: Brandwatch Consumer Research

Looking at the sentiment for Miley Cyrus mentions in the Converse conversation, it is highly positive.

Immediately, consumers lauded Cyrus as a vegan icon. The timing of this launch meant the vegan line was perfect for holiday presents – it was a great move from Converse.


Another prime example of a celebrity collaboration to achieve moral marketing success is Nike’s aforementioned partnership with Colin Kaepernick, a former American football quarterback and political activist who kneeled during the National Anthem to protest against racism.

Kaepernick fronted the “Just Do It” campaign that launched in September 2018. Kaepernick was a highly contested public figure at this point – conservatives attacked his actions, while progressives voiced their support. One side viewed Kaepernick as unpatriotic, while another lauded Kaepernick for taking a necessary stand against police brutality and hate crimes against people of color. Nike knew the risks associated with employing Kaepernick for a major campaign, and must have anticipated backlash. But they went forward anyway.

The campaign generated new levels of conversation for Nike. There were 2.5m social posts the day of the launch. The brand was on everyone’s radar, and not just athletes and sneaker aficionados.

Looking at the topic wheel for Nike in September 2018, when the Kaepernick ad launched, Kaepernick and Nike Air were the most prominent discussion topics. Subtopics include racial injustice – a sign of success. A sneaker brand and the star of its campaign helped propel the discussion about racial injustice on social media.

The campaign paid off in different ways, too. Sure, some conservatives tried to burn their Nikes, but the brand was able to connect to many new and existing customers on a whole new level. Online sales increased by 31% the Labor Day weekend following the ad’s release. A few months later, sales were still booming, with a 10% income increase driven by strong revenue.

The already prominent brand showed a new, courageous face to the public and, overall, it was a big success.

Take a stand on pressing issues

Brands can make a splash by taking a strong stance on pressing issues, with or without the use of celebrities as the anchor.

Dick’s Sporting Goods

Dick’s Sporting Goods is known for its athletic equipment and, to a lesser extent, guns.

However, discourse changed in 2019. A year after March For Our Lives, there was a spate of horrific shootings in the U.S. that led to widespread outrage. People called for boycotts against brands that had ties to the NRA, and major retailers like Dick’s that sold guns in stores.

When Dick’s Sporting Goods announced in early March that it would remove guns and ammo from 125 stores, social media took notice. Conversation soared to 40k posts the week the announcement came out.

Mentions of Dick’s Sporting Goods

Source: Brandwatch Consumer Research

Did this change in store inventory pay off?

Sentiment was highly positive for Dick’s the week of the announcement, signifying that many consumers were on board. They shared news articles about Dick’s removing guns and lauded the company for taking more action on gun control than the U.S. government.


On 28 November, Patagonia announced that it would donate its $10 million tax break to environmental groups. The massive tax break is a result of President Donald Trump’s tax cuts that benefit corporations.

It was an eventful month for the company, that started with social conversation spiking around the announcement that the brand would close stores on Election Day to allow employees and customers more time to vote. The discussion about the company shot up to 15k posts on the day of the tax break donation announcement, and the day after the announcement more people joined the conversation – social posts about Patagonia reached 27k.

Mentions of Patagonia

Source: Brandwatch Consumer Research

Since 28 November, the discussion about Patagonia continues to revolve around the donation to environmental groups, with many commending the CEO Rose Marcario. People also discussed combatting Trump, paying respect to nature, and their love of warm jackets.

Who’s driving this discussion? Our analysis shows that Patagonia’s audience is one that cares about nature and earth protection matters like climate change and sustainability. They also spend time outdoors in nature, with interests in hiking and the outdoors.

Affinities with the LGBTQ+ community, activism, and human rights demonstrate that Patagonia’s audience cares about social issues that extend beyond environmental ones.

Given how positively consumers reacted to Patagonia’s donation, the brand has plenty of opportunities to create more campaigns about environmental activism while also strengthening current initiatives and building others that combat other social issues.

Best practices/takeaways

Is taking a stance better than silence? Consumers say yes.

“Silence is golden,” the adage goes. But is it always? When it comes to brands’ take on cultural, political, and social issues, sometimes silence can be deafening and consumers want to see brands show their true colors.

Silence is a missed opportunity to connect with consumers: While some brands may prefer the comfort of security, quiet brands could face fading into obscurity.

What do successful campaigns have in common? They pick causes that are relevant, that resonate with their audiences, and that align with their brand values. Misunderstanding your audience, or going for an obscure cause that’s unrelated to your brand, could spell trouble.

It’s never too late to change

Even brands that can seem traditional can shift their messaging.

For example, Victoria’s Secret, a brand known for lingerie, usually hosts an annual fashion show, broadcast on TV. But that show won’t happen in 2019, due to a combination of TV ratings falling, the CEO’s transphobic comments, and the brand not historically being very inclusive of diverse body types.

But the brand is taking steps to repair its image. In August 2019, Victoria’s Secret hired its first transgender model, to the delight of many pushing for more inclusivity in fashion. Even brands with deeply ingrained traditions can change take a stand on some issues.

Victoria’s Secret is up against some serious challenges, not least from the rapidly rising Fenty, Rihanna’s lingerie line known for inclusiveness. The chart below compares the share of voice for Savage X Fenty and Victoria’s Secret. Since Savage X Fenty’s launch in 2018, it has proven to be a strong competitor, eating away at Victoria’s Secret’s share of voice.

In order to complete, Victoria’s Secret need to embrace diversity and show it.

Succeeding with moral marketing v. meeting the bottom line

With moral marketing, brands aim to make their values known and shape their story, and also achieve their financial goals. The key for brands to succeed with moral marketing is identifying their target audiences and engaging with them authentically.

Without risk, there’s no reward. Brands like Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods took sizeable risks, alienating some of their consumers, with their mission-driven marketing campaigns. But they also showed the world how successful a moral marketing campaign can be both for the brand’s bottom line and for furthering causes they believe in.

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