Beyond the Surface: How Brands Can Drive Social Change



Author —Auteur — Michelle Bell

As we turn the corner on Black History Month, we at karmadharma have reflected on our role as strategists and creatives. As a strategic and creative agency, we love the way brands and advertising can move people. In many ways, advertising can have the power to move culture. Advertising can reflect social norms, move social norms, or in some cases normalize certain values, beliefs or behaviours. 

And as much as we love the power of advertising, we must also respect the power it has, and reflect on how we as an industry can use it responsibility.

Sound far-fetched?

Image by prostooleh on Freepik

Over the past few years we have seen major brands evolve or completely rebrand amid public pressure that names, symbols and images perpetuate stereotypes.  In a recent example, the Aunt Jemima brand had to completely change their brand identity.  

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America.

Still not convinced?  Try a few simple searches of people + situations in stock photo banks.   Look for the patterns.  

We did a quick search with the word “beauty”:

While the negative impact of brand names and logos have been hiding in plain sight – the messages we convey exist in every facet of  how a brand communicates. The way people are cast, the way power is portrayed, and the way heroes and villains are created can be subtle, yet powerful.  

Now, what can karmadharma do in our areas of expertise to support social justice in all aspects of our work? Here are some key things that agencies can do to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion:


Educate and continually coach your team:  Unconscious bias is often ingrained in our thinking and behaviors. It is important to be aware of it, work to overcome it and ensure it is not perpetuated in your work. 

Review your creative briefs: Look at your creative briefs with the right lens to see if they contain any assumptions or stereotypes. From copy to casting, make sure they are inclusive and reflective of the diverse audience you are trying to reach.

Seek feedback from diverse audiences: Testing your advertising with diverse audiences can help you uncover any unconscious biases in your messaging and ensure that it resonates with a wide range of people.

Partnering with organizations and experts: Brands and advertisers can partner with organizations that are working to combat systemic racism. These subject matter experts can help ensure the imagery, tone, language and setting hit the right mark. 

Watch the supply chain:  In addition to what makes the cut for consumers, agencies can ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are upheld with all partners.  From pre to post production and media buying to media platforms, agencies need to ensure a consistent set of values through their supply chain. 


And so, while we love the power of brands and advertising to move people, we also appreciate and respect the power it has for both good and bad in society. 

Michelle Bell

Chief Marketing Officer

Michelle has over 18 years of experience in marketing and operations. She has worked in traditional brand management for global consumer packaged good brands. In addition, she has worked in marketing and business strategy for the public sector, including Canada 150 for the Royal Canadian Mint.

Rob Hyams

Chief Creative Officer

Rob has been building brands and campaigns since he came out of the womb…or at least that’s what it feels like. He has a rare gift; an ability to distill the complex into a succinct and compelling story.

Brent Martel

Web Development & Marketing Automation

Brent is our resident experts on making websites that convert and simplifying your marketing technology to make it work for you. Sounds good, right?

Alan Horic

Senior Digital Ads Strategist

Alan is all-knowing (no joke) when it comes to deploying your digital marketing strategy; from search to display to Account-Based Marketing, he can turn your ads into a revenue generating machine.

Francesca Désulmé

Account Coordinator

Artist, communications enthusiast and social justice advocate, Francesca brings a plurality of lived experiences to the table. Organized, passionate and creative, she’ll help bring your projects to the next level.

Peter Georgariou

CEO & Founder

A Buddha-loving, health nut who races in Ironmans and marathons in his free time. He brings a ton of heart and intense questions to every moment. Trust us… 

Bárbara d’Oro

Content Strategist

Barbara is a journalist by trade who loves talking to people, asking great questions and giving a voice to their stories. Being Brazilian, she also loves a mean BBQ marathon at your local churrascaria.

Michelle Bell

Chief Marketing Officer

Michelle is an intensely caring, and lovably nerdy, triple-threat: her creative, strategic & engineer brain are the perfect recipe for taking your organization to the next level.

Karen Bramhill

Chief Experience Officer

Artist, epidemiologist, operations specialist and true lover of life; Karen is a true polymath that brings a wealth of care and knowledge to every engagement. And for the record, ambiguity and her are not the best of friends.


Creative Designer

Having been in the hospitality industry for years, Jennifer is passionate about creating meaningful experiences. Fuelled by string cheese, she applies a very thoughtful & practical mindset to her designs.


Account Coordinator

Gen will bring the energy to kick-start your project and the grit to see it through. Her conscience will find you the best strategy and probably save the planet along the way.

Jenna Araujo

Creative Lead

Jenna is the Swiss Army knife of creative…with a smile. She’s got a design solution for almost any problem accompanied by the most infectious giggle in the industry.

Assia Merazi

Senior Designer

Mrs. Creative Worldwide hailing straight from Dubai, Assia is eager to unleash her strategic design genius on your brand. Yalla!