Michael Marshall: Woke-washing won’t work in the US

There’s no such thing as a typical American

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that the USA is a very diverse country. It’s obvious, but there is no such thing as a ‘typical American’. The primary step for any brand or business wishing to enter the American market – or even a particular slice of it – is to ensure there’s a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives working in and alongside its creative teams. 

Cultural revolution in the US is a constant   

Throughout history, the United States has experienced cultural revolution as a constant. But it feels that this is now happening across more levels and layers than ever before – across regions, generations, classes, gendered communities, racial communities, and political groups. Amongst all this ongoing transformation, American people are becoming much more critical of brands and brand narratives that aren’t grounded in real connections or communities. 

People are getting savvy to woke-washing

At the time of writing this, it’s LGBT World Pride month. As with any high-profile movements, many brands have been keen to align themselves with Pride as a way of showcasing that they care about more than just their bottom line. But unless they are actually demonstrating care, they are leaving themselves open to justified accusations of virtue signalling and inauthenticity. American consumers are increasingly marketing-savvy. They demand more than rainbow coloured logos and limited edition merchandise.


Support must be sustained and fund meaningful change 

The most successful brand/cause alignments are sustained (ask a queer kid if they’re only bullied in school during the month of June and see what they say), and mobilise meaningful, positive change with actual funds. They must also be visibly reflected by the operational values of the company behind them. 


Top marks for Unilever 

I’ve been interested in following the work that Unilever has announced this month, aligning its brands to support the people who are doing grassroots work and impacting LGBT communities every day. You can read Unilever’s news release here and learn more about the campaigns it’s running in this article published by Out

It’s my opinion that the key to success right now – in the US and beyond – is to consider context and make sure that brand narratives are grounded in places, communities and the real lives of real people. Before messaging and activity is even off the drawing board, how are you directly engaging and connecting with your audiences to understand them? How are you actively collaborating with your audiences to sustain and evolve your brand narrative year round? How are you contributing positively to their communities on a regular basis? Basically, how are you behaving in a consistent and genuine way that deserves trust?


Michael is an intO Local Researcher. Specialising in UX research and design, he has a specialist interest in research ethics. Michael has lived in the US and China,  speaks English and Chinese, and currently lives in Chicago. 

Brand Strategy Uncategorized Publications Social Change Research

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