The world is in constant flux and revolution. This has been aided by the increase of globalisation through the internet. Where 30 years ago the international community needed Oliver Tambo to tell them about Apartheid, today, it takes one tweet to raise viral awareness. From the effect of hashtags like #ArabSpring, #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackExcellence, #MeToo and the like, it is clear that the “woke” revolution cannot be ignored by brands and by the global community we live in.

The commonality of the above-mentioned hashtags that have been around for more than three years, are centered around the “Woke Citizen”. What and whom is this citizen? According to Urban Dictionary, ‘woke’ refers to being in a state of awareness: “Being Woke means being aware. Knowing what’s going on in the community,” specifically relating to racism and social injustice.

How can we forget the ill-thought-out Pepsi, H&M, Dove, Appletiser and Outsurance campaigns? These brands are a few examples of why insight-driven, and regionally relevant brand plans are critical in this digital age. H&M, a global brand, did not think their mistake would spread to the point where their stores were vandalised in South Africa. These campaigns were out of touch with the ‘woke’ citizen who is deeply connected with what is going on in the world.

This citizenship is not only for a select group of people. It goes across colour lines and salary brackets and that is what brands need to be aware of. For example, the #MeToo campaign is backing all women who have been victimised in the workplace and started in the US and has spread to South Africa. The awareness of consumers is growing, and this affects all brands.

What do brands do now?

Brands and businesses need to stay attuned to the ever-changing pulse of their consumers. With globalisation, brands are now in a position where they are known in countries they do not sell in. Big brands cannot be arrogant, ignorant and out of touch with its regional local South African customers.

“Research into who the consumers are, what they want and how to communicate with them is no longer theory taught at university, it is something that must be practically carried out,” says Iris Qacha, Client Services Director at Stratcom Branding.

“Brands have an important role in shaping our society and they can unite the global community by communicating universal truths that effect positive change”, she adds.

A successful brand that is global and strives to be regionally relevant to boost sales through a deep understanding of the ground swell of local consumers, needs to fully understand the socio-economic drivers of their consumers.

“Woke Consumers may appear to be a challenge, but in turn they pose an opportunity for brands to showcase their authenticity through working with brand developing agencies that are born of the region, have global understanding and the ability to translate this with a solid understanding on the ground,” says Gail Macleod, CEO and founder of Stratcom Branding and the Global Local Branding Association (glba).

Stratcom Branding works closely with brands to create insightful, innovative packaging that resonates globally, while creating deeper positive connections locally that are smart, beautiful and most importantly beneficial.

‘Heritage’ is a packaging and branding trend currently trending worldwide. Interestingly, what is happening in South Africa is different to the rest of the world.  Here, heritage is not what it may be in Europe and the USA, where nostalgia is a driver.

In this instance, we must temper nostalgia to those who see it as a positive reinforcement and to whom nostalgia is negatively steeped in strife, trouble and poverty, while walking the delicate balance of not alienating any portion of the population.

Global and local collaboration between brands, education and a holistic understanding of the consumer’s needs, can close that gap between what resonates with the consumer and what drives them away.

In the words of Oprah Winfrey, ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’. Applying the principles of ‘woke’ citizenship, brands can connect deeper with this new age citizen. Do not be wary of this citizen, they are the greatest ambassadors for authentic brands in that they believe see and hear them. This remains the biggest challenge for brands in the future.


This article’s content has been largely contributed by Iris Qacha – Client Services Director at Stratcom Branding – Having more than 7 years’ experience under her belt across various roles in branding, marketing, advertising and sales. Working on some of South Africa’s iconic brands including, PepsiCo, Simba, CNA, and SA Breweries, she shares her insight on being a ‘woke’ citizen.

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