This week, we explore the power of sacrifice and why brands should let their actions do the talking.

You talk too much

How actions can be stronger than words for both individuals and brands.

Malithi Geeganage & George Organ

Business Management & Creative

7 minute read

In an industry where we spend so much time thinking about what we say, how we say it and where, it’s easy to forget the importance of something potentially much more powerful – our actions.

To get an understanding of the power of actions, let’s look at two examples from our team at CX Lavender.

In short
  • Whether you’re an individual or a brand, your actions can often say more and inspire greater change than your words.
  • Across the globe, brands have used their actions to demonstrate what they stand for.
  • However, it can backfire when you say you stand for something, but your actions don’t align.
Malithi’s big chop

Growing up, I was so obsessed with having long hair that I dutifully logged my hair growth in my school planner each week. After many years of intense hair brushing routines, and the enthusiastic investigation of an old wives’ tale here and there – my hair had finally grown down to my hips. It was exactly as I hoped! It came in handy to punctuate my sentences with dramatic hair flips, and to keep my energetic little cousin occupied at family gatherings, as she tested out hairstyle ideas on me like 'Princess Braid' and 'Large, Tangled KnotTM'.

But after over ten years, I wanted to use my long hair in a much more meaningful way, so I decided to take part in Variety – the Children’s Charity’s initiative, ‘Locks of Love’. I ended up chopping off 47 cm of my hair to be made into a wig for someone who has lost their hair due to cancer, alopecia or another medical condition.

I was shocked to learn that wigs cost families up to $6,000, lasting 1-2 years each, which means that families can spend tens of thousands of dollars on the purchase of wigs throughout a child’s youth! So, I was beyond excited to contribute to this great cause, even if I was afraid I may emerge from this looking a little like Lord Farquaad from Shrek.

I had set a goal to raise $1000 over the course of the month preceding my big chop, but my friends and family banded together to smash this target within the first few days. By the time I donated my hair, we were actually able to raise over three and a half times my goal.

I know that on the scale of sacrifice, getting a haircut is No Big Deal. But I do think that letting go of something that has been significant to me for such a long time helped show people that I backed the cause wholeheartedly, and why they should too.

George’s NSFW tattoo

I’d never thought about getting a tattoo. Even as a kid, I’d toss away the temporary ones that came with gum. But after my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, I wanted to make an impact when I took part in Dry July the same year.

So, on the first day of parking the booze, I pledged that if I raised $5,000 for the McGrath Foundation (who are absolute angels), I’d get a tattoo that said ‘F*CK CANCER’.

The previous year I’d raised about $800, so I felt safe that my lovely Eurasian skin would remain untarnished.

But I was wrong.

Family, friends and even a few randoms got on board and I went on to raise close to $7,500.

Being a man of my word (and knowing that the internet never forgets your promises), I got the tattoo. And knowing where the money went, I don’t regret it a single bit (except in the odd client meeting).

“It’s clear that when brands put their money where their mouth is, customers respond.”

Why actions are so powerful

As you can see with these examples, it’s action that drove the desired result. And the reason for this is simple – actions speak louder than words.

It’s more than just an adage. The fact is that people are more likely to put more credence in your actions, because what you do more strongly correlates with what you believe. You can say anything without believing strongly in it1.

Actions also make more impact because they’re the only thing that gives results, which is something that words alone can rarely do2.

How brands are letting their actions do the talking

It’s not just individuals who can use actions to drive change. Brands can (and should) do it too.

The recent situation in Ukraine has spurred several brands to act, with a host of global companies from Nestlé, Ikea and Adidas to Unilever, BP and McDonald’s having either stopped or dramatically reduced their activities in Russia3.

Even one of the world’s biggest personal brands, David Beckham, stepped up by handing his Instagram account over to a Ukrainian doctor in Kharkiv for a day, so that his 71.5m followers could get an insight into what life was like for pregnant women and newborns in the besieged city4.

But it’s not just in response to global conflict where brands choose to act. Many brands have created innovative campaigns that put their money where their mouth is.

Take Corona (the beer brand), for instance. While most drink companies extol the virtues of recycling, Corona put that talk into action by creating the Plastic Fishing Tournament, where they paid fisherman in Mexico the same amount for a kilo of plastic waste as they would receive for a kilo of fish. They drew three tons of plastic from the sea in one day and there are now plans to take the tournament across the globe.

If you say something, back it up with your actions

Where actions become even more important is when a brand publicly states that they stand for something. When they do this, their actions must always back up their words – and it can be hugely detrimental to their credibility and public perception when they don’t.

This can be referred to as ‘performative activism’, where support for a cause is driven by monetary gain, garnering attention and public perception rather than sincerely acting to effect change5. Examples of this are evident in the brand responses to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which captured attention globally following the murder of George Floyd.

Amazon showed public support for the movement by placing a BLM banner at the top of their home page, and doubled down of their support when Jeff Bezos took to Instagram to share a response to this from a racist customer, to which Bezos replied “you’re the kind of customer I’m happy to lose.”

However, Amazon faced critics who felt that these public representations were just opportunistic distractions from how its practices have actually harmed the black community6. This refers to how Amazon profited off the sale of merchandise displaying white supremacist propaganda, as well as selling facial recognition software to police departments, which a coalition of 40 human rights groups described as a “a powerful surveillance system” that could “violate rights and target communities of colour” based on a 2018 ACLU study which found that the software disproportionately misidentified members of Congress who were not white and matched them to people who had been arrested for a crime7.

Nike also showed support for the BLM movement, with a video launched across social media that urged viewers not to turn their backs to racism – to address the adversity and lack of representation that African Americans face. But Nike faced backlash for the fact that they do not have a single black person on their executive leadership team, despite allegedly making billions out of ‘black sports and customers’.8

So many instances of this kind of performative activism from brands emerged that it attracted criticism through parody, like the example below: 

Three ways brands can lead with their actions

Don’t just say, do

So, you’ve probably got the gist of this one by now – lead with your actions. There are many brands the world over that are providing powerful examples of this, from Mastercard’s Priceless Planet Coalition, which has committed to planting 100 million trees by 2025, to Volvo’s commitment to becoming a fully electric car company by 2030. It’s clear that when brands put their money where their mouth is, customers respond.

Give your people opportunities to act

To drive meaningful change, your people need to be on board too. So, giving your employees opportunities to act is a great way to show that your brand is more than just talk. Whether it’s offering cultural capability training right down to organising Clean Up Australia work teams, empowering employees to take their own action makes positive change an all-company affair.

Give your customers opportunities to act

Most brands have a customer base who are keen to make their own change in the world. So, if you can be the brand that gives them the means to do that, then they’re likely to respond positively. TOMS famously leveraged this with their ‘One for One’ promise, matching every pair of shoes their customers bought by donating a pair to children in need. While they’ve since gone on to re-evaluate their strategy9, the program still stands as one of the first (or at least, one of the most famous) major buy-one-give-one models that gave customers a direct means to create impact.

It’s time to act

So, now that we’ve talked at length about the power of action, what actions will you take to replace the talk?

Whether you choose to start small or change a war with a tweet, the first step is the most important.

But maybe avoid promises that involve NSFW tattoos.

on when action goes wrong
Action is good, but get it wrong and you’re in trouble. Like Burger King’s Pride Month campaign. Not only did this ‘action’ do nothing for LGBTQIA+ communities, but the nonsensical nature of the ad made BK look ignorant and hinted a lack of employee diversity – because surely no queer person green-lighted this.

Written by Malithi Geeganage & George Organ, editing by Abby Clark, 52 Words by Adelaide Anderson, key visual by Laura Murphy, page built by Patrick Brennan & Laura Murphy.
  1. Writing Explained, What Does Actions Speak Louder Than Words Mean? (2022) Writing Explained.
  2. Haiden Heath, Are actions more powerful than words? (9 March 2021) Rampfest Hudson.
  3. The New York Times, Here Are Some of the Companies That Have Pledged to Stop Business in Russia (2022) The New York Times.
  4. Sarah Haque, David Beckham hands Instagram account to Ukranian doctor in Kharkiv (2022) The Guardian.
  5. Chelsea Candelario, What Is Performative Activism (and Why Does It Do More Harm Than Good)? (28 September 2021) Pure Wow.
  6. Tracy Jan, Jena McGregor, Renae Merle and Nitasha Tiku, As big corporations say ‘black lives matter’, their track records raise skepticism (13 June 2020) Washington Post.
  7. Kari Paul, Amazon says ‘Black Lives Matter’, but the company has deep ties to policing (9 June 2020) The Guardian.
  8. The Economic Times, Adidas, Nike & Twitter lend support to #BlackLivesMatter, take a strong stand against racism after George Floyd’s death (1 June 2020) The Economic Times.
  9. David Hessekiel, The rise and fall of the Buy-One-Give-One model at TOMS (28 April 2021) Forbes.

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CX Lavender acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.