Brands Should Take Sides Through Their Storytelling


By: Tara Weiss

Authenticity isn’t a new concept in marketing. But in the current polarized political climate it’s essential that brands remain true to their core values and not shy away from taking stands on the social issues of our time.


That was the message delivered from a roundtable discussion of six top female marketers at the Brand Innovators Women in Brand Marketing Summit hosted by Viacom.

“The authenticity economy will change the way we go to market,” Julie Yufe, Anheuser-Busch InBev's vice president of global marketing, told the audience at the Top 100 Women Roundtable. “We’ve talked about authenticity for a long time but now more than ever brands are going to have to behave all the time consistently.”

The panelists encouraged brands to take sides through their brand storytelling. Panelists on the conference’s pointed to Nike’s recent iteration of the Just Do It campaign using Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans.

Featuring the controversial football player in the ad was a risky decision, but one that likely paid off. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that voters approved of Nike’s choice to feature Kaepernick by 49 percent to 37 percent.

“In the space of brands who are going to win, it’s about courage,” said Jeanine Liburd, chief marketing and communications officer at BET Networks, a Viacom Company. “To create environments that don’t have ‘isms in them, you have to take an incredible risk and be O.K. with taking a revenue dip.”

Alicia Tillman, chief marketing officer at SAP, predicted more brands will take a similar risk. “Thirty-six months from now, we will see that companies give a platform to someone looking for a larger voice,” she said.

Stephanie Buscemi, chief marketing officer at Salesforce and the panel’s moderator, pointed to the company’s opposition to an Indiana law that allowed businesses to deny services to the LGBT community in 2015, citing religious freedom. Its CEO Marc Benioff canceled all customer and employee travel to the state.

“We knew it could have pushback but we went back to our core values, and that trumped any data out there, Buscemi said.

Panelists also discussed the importance of hiring a diverse workforce throughout all of their varied industries. Jennifer Frommer, senior vice president of creative content and brand partnerships at Columbia Records, pointed to the significant impact that could ripple through her industry by hiring women and minorities in engineering and sound mixing positions.

“You need to start where the art gets made,” she said.

BET’s Liburd encouraged artists to demand a certain percentage of a project’s staff to be diverse. She pointed to entertainers like Tiffany Haddish and Eva Longoria who have the influence to say they won’t do a project unless you have a number of diverse people on staff. “The advertisers will listen to it,” said Liburd. “If we wait on the people who have the power to give it up I think we’ve learned that’s not going to happen.”

When asked about the best piece of professional advice they’ve received, panelists offered everything from finding an opportunity that no one else is paying attention to and filling it to making sure you laugh frequently.

Kathleen Hall, corporate vice president of brand, advertising, and research at Microsoft told the audience: “Never underestimate the power of humor.”