The Success of Defiant Brands

— Tom Woods, WE 

In a matter of minutes, an audience that was shouting and threatening began to applaud. Elin Ersson this week became a hero of the human rights movement by refusing to take her plane seat until an Afghanistan asylum seeker, sentenced to deportation and probably death, was removed from the flight. In the process she was physically grappled, blackmailed with orders to ‘follow the rules’, intimidated and reduced to tears. But she continued to show defiance, resisting the pressure to cave in. And she is now being celebrated around the world.

Watch the video here

Whether you agree with Ersson’s actions is not the point. Many on that plane didn’t agree, and still more will find something unsavoury to say on social media. What rightly earns Ersson the credit she is receiving is her ability to stay true to her convictions, peacefully, despite being told constantly that she was doing something wrong.

There are a lot of communicators who could be taking inspiration from her approach.


Why defiance matters to your brand

In 2018, it’s hard to stand up for what you believe in. We’re in an era of haters who will force individuals and brands alike to question their every action – and every fact has a counter-fact. But what happens when a brand plucks up the courage to show defiance, and stand behind their convictions come what may? Good things, I’d argue.

When Campbell’s Soup released an ad celebrating same-sex couples, it received a mountain of online hate. But rather than row back on its message, or attempt to pacify, it struck back, with results that are still meme-worthy to this day. Oh, and it’s also on the verge of a multi-billion dollar sale.

To take a slightly more recent example, look at Lush, and its #SpyCops campaign from earlier this year. Many people hated that campaign, resulting not just in online backlash but in-store intimidation. The brand’s ‘activist’ identity got them into a lot of trouble here, but look on their website today and you’ll see a wave of new features pushing exactly the same message as before, defying Lush’s critics head on. None of this has hurt its success as a business: they just returned record profits for the year.

This is not to say that every brand has a cause to stand behind, or that they should create one. But in an increasingly polarised world, many will one day need to pick between one direction and another, knowing that a section of their audience may powerfully disagree.


Take the opportunity to show defiance

It is in those moments I’d argue that powerful individuals like Elin Ersson present the perfect role model. Hold true to the message you have, don’t flinch, and shout it loud so that everyone understands you mean business. Then if a wave is coming, let it come, because you’ll still be standing when it passes.

Your own act of defiance may be nothing like as seismic as Ersson’s. But no matter what form it takes, look out for it, and take the opportunity when it comes. It’s your opportunity to be remembered.