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Why are big brands really distancing themselves from January 26?

RMIT University 2 mins read

More brands are distancing themselves from contentious dates like January 26, but marketing experts from RMIT say these brands remain quiet on their social alliances to avoid backlash. 

Topics: corporate social responsibility, brand activism, brand association 

Dr Daniel Rayne, Lecturer, Marketing 

“The debate as to whether brands should be social beacons or not, has again come to light as Woolworths, K-Mart and Aldi have decided against stocking Australia Day merchandise. 

“Brands are increasingly using contemporary sociopolitical issues as a marketing tool to stand out from the crowd. 

“Normally, when brands adopt an activism strategy, they put their social support front and centre, however, perhaps driven by fear of isolating the market, big retailers have adopted a business decision focus first. 

“Woolworths have adopted this “activism without activism” approach, which signals how the ways brands engage in activism are constantly expanding and evolving. 

“Putting business interests ahead of a firm social position, makes their activism approach more palatable for shareholders.” 

Dr Daniel Rayne’s research specialises in topics such as digital business and marketing, corporate social responsibility and consumer behaviour. 

Dr Amanda Spry, Senior Lecturer, Marketing 

“By their own admission, Woolworths position on not stocking Australia Day merchandise has a social component to it, why is this secondary? 

“As consumers become more familiar with brand initiatives that have a social edge, they are able to reconcile both profit-making and social motives.  

“By Woolworths publicly stating this, they are perhaps making it easier for consumers to interpret their strategy. 

“The timing of such comments by Woolworths is unlikely a coincidence as pressure concerning their price gouging heats up.  

“This move away from stocking Australia Day merchandise, even if temporarily, changes the discourse around the brand. 

“The negativity surrounding previous attempts to show brand support to First Nations People have perhaps resulted in Woolworths adopting a new approach to their support. 

“Brands will often call on social initiatives as a deflection mechanism for current and future malpractice.” 

Dr Amanda Spry’s research investigates the critical role that brands play for consumers, companies, markets, and society. She studies the capacity and versatility of brands to drive a company's bottom line, to engage in sociopolitical activism, and to contribute to societal transformation. 

Contact details:


Daniel Rayne, +61 3 9925 6068 or  

Amanda Spry, +61 3 9925 5806 or  

General media enquiries: RMIT External Affairs and Media, 0439 704 077 or


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