Top 5 Inclusive (and Inspiring!) Brand Responses to 2020


The kind of year that doesn’t need subsequent words.

But while it was one of the most collectively challenging years, something beautiful arose from the ashes — a compelling coming together that connected humans from all walks of life. Every race, gender, age, sexuality unified toward a movement greater than us all — a movement of empathy and inclusivity.

For Brands, together we realized that the buck couldn’t stop at a donation or an ad campaign. We had to look within to ensure that what we stood for was inclusive — and taking that a step further, ensuring that we didn’t merely keep those values close to our chests, but outwardly share them, exemplifying that we stand for the greater good of our consumers.

And this was no longer a nicety in 2020, but a must — as consumers now expect brands to do what’s right by the people. eMarketer even found that 61% of audiences now rate inclusivity as a crucial factor for brand loyalty (a prevailing topic that we’ll cover at our can’t-miss event, Outbrain Unveil!).

From COVID-19 relief efforts to the powerful forces aimed at ending systemic racism, throughout the year, we saw so many brands be purposeful in their campaigns — though a few stuck out from the crowd. A few were so intrinsically genuine that it was hard not to be inspired.

As purpose-driven marketing — or, what we like to call Advertising For Good — will continue to accelerate into 2021, be sure to check out the below brands to continue getting inspired.

1. Ben & Jerry’s | Colin Kaepernick’s Change the Whirled

Photo Credit: Ben & Jerry’s

Not only a staple in your freezer box, this ice cream brand was co-founded in the late 1970s by lifelong fighters of social justice, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. And though Unilever has owned the equity-first brand for almost two decades, its authentic values have lived on, most notably in its new flavors and the campaigns that swirl around them.

Just this month, Ben & Jerry’s unveiled its newest (vegan!) ice cream flavor, Change the Whirled, in partnership with NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.

Back in 2016, Kaepernick sent shockwaves throughout the world as a one-man protestor, kneeling during pre-game playings of the National Anthem in an effort to bring attention to racism and police brutality. Heartbreakingly, he hasn’t played a down of professional football since — but he has become one of the many faces of the Black Lives Movement, which Ben & Jerry’s supports tremendously. 

This new flavor “celebrates Kaepernick’s courageous work to confront systemic oppression and to stop police violence against Black and Brown people.” 

Co-Founder Jerry, the latter half of the frozen-friendly duo, continued that “the company acts on its values because that’s what it believes in, and despite the fact that some people don’t like it, the company continues to thrive. What that says to me is, you don’t need to be worried about upsetting some people when you’re doing what is right, and what you believe in.”

Mic. Drop.

2. Nike | You Can’t Stop Us

Photo Credit: Nike

As a brand, Nike is a movement in and of itself — always challenging the status quo when it comes to the more challenging topics most brands find it difficult to navigate.

At its core, the You Can’t Stop Us campaign embodied that collectiveness. And Nike said it perfectly, “Sport unites us. Strengthens us. Keeps us pushing ahead. No matter what, we will always come back stronger, together.” 

Aside from its goosebumps-inducing ads, Nike has donated tens of millions of dollars in response to the destruction COVID-19 has caused — to our health, to our families, to our jobs, to our livelihood. But this donation went beyond money, as Nike donated everything from footwear specifically designed for healthcare workers who are on their feet (and the frontlines!) battling this virus head on to championing its sophisticated Innovation Team to create face shields and air-purifying respirator lenses for those same frontline workers.

Taking that a step further, Nike also created its Play Inside, Play For the World campaign, promoting stay-at-home orders and digitally providing all of the resources needed to stay active indoors — from a library of digital workouts to partnerships that encourage kids the opportunity for indoor play. After all, by Nike’s standards, we’re all athletes.

3. DoorDash | Bubba Wallace’s #DashToThePolls

Photo Credit: DoorDash

The U.S. presidential election — another memorable moment in 2020 — divided a nation like never before. And yet, with inclusivity built into the company’s DNA, DoorDash took this divide head-on, teaming up with NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace and nonprofit When We All Vote in a nonpartisan effort to encourage young voters to cast their ballots.

Continuing on its Every Flavor Welcome campaign, which celebrated the diversity of the countless cultures and cuisines in which uniquely make up this nation, #DashToThePolls, not only served thousands of meals to citizens and poll workers, but also removed delivery fees for orders placed on election day.

No matter the political party or belief system, this food delivery powerhouse recognized that, like sports, food brings people together, and the more that we can celebrate our differences and discover one another’s cultures (while letting our voices be heard!), the less divided we’ll be.

4. Johnson & Johnson | #BacktheFrontline

Photo Credit: Johnson & Johnson

Beyond the everyday brands you may find in your medicine cabinets, Johnson & Johnson has now become one of the brands you’re crossing your fingers for. 

As doctors and scientists are globally defying the vaccine development odds in record-breaking turnaround times, J&J is one of the few that’s further along in the process — recently enrolling it’s late stage trial, in hopes of submitting to the FDA by February. While slightly behind the recent launches of Pfizer and Moderna, the J&J vaccine is expected to be more manageable, for consumers and healthcare facilities, requiring only one shot (versus the common two!), stored via refrigeration (versus freezing!), and admirably distributed on a not-for-profit basis.

And that’s only the beginning. J&J’s #BacktheFrontline campaign has supported healthcare workers tremendously, from cash grants to employee actions to production donations. But beyond the frontlines, they realized the health inequalities for people of color, who have been more significantly affected by the pandemic, pledging $100 million dollars to end this divide. Be it through scholarships for Black students interested in STEM fields, spending hundreds of millions with Black and Hispanic-owned businesses, or growing its own African American talent at the manager level above 50% by 2025 — J&J has wowed us all.

5. WNBA (and NBA) | A Season Dedicated to Social Justice

Photo Credit: Associated Press, Phelan M. Ebenhack

Last, but certainly not least, the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association). While the NBA gained global recognition for its walk off amid the 2020 playoffs after the wrongful shooting of Jacob Blake, demanding justice against police brutality, the WNBA has been outwardly fighting this battle for years.

From warm-up shirts with social justice messaging to media blackouts to kneeling during the national anthem, the WNBA’s unified movements date back to 2016 when the Minnesota Lynx wore shirts that read “Change Starts With Us: Justice & Accountability”. At the time, the players were fined by the league for violating attire rules, which only fueled their fire more.

After years of dedication, the WNBA Social Justice Council was created this year — not only representative of the players, 80% of whom are Black, but of the league. And together, with the NBA, their resolve forced conversations that led to the donation of over $300 million dollars for the empowerment of black communities.

These player activists never let up, and while there’s much work to be done to end systemic racism, their grit paved the way for the NBA strike and significantly raised awareness of the long history of inequality.

Keep the Inspiration Coming

These stories not only demonstrate the impact brands can have on social movements, but the influence their meaningful actions can have on the cultural conversation.

The irreversible effects of 2020 have been challenging. But on the flip side of that coin, they’ve brought about a fire in us all to do more outside of our own walls. To take a stand for the better of the human race. To find empathy and equity in our differences.

There’s much to be inspired by as we see purpose-driven marketing become more and more pervasive throughout our industry.

That said, be sure to save your seat for Outbrain Unveil on January 27th to gain further inspiration for this Advertising For Good movement, and see what other customer-centric themes will be ever-present throughout 2021.

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