Rob Mathie Banner

A new wave of brand activism

In a new quarterly series, On the One’s founder Rob Mathie talks to leading cultural activists to shine a light on marketing solutions for an increasingly uncertain world.

In an already volatile climate, the continued pressures of a downward economic trajectory, tactical and deliberate culture wars and the homogenisation of the media landscape have seen marginalised voices in culture increasingly under threat and in need of support.

The recent closure of gal-dem, a ground-breaking media space for women and non-binary people of colour, laid bare the challenges faced in digital publishing in general and under-represented talent in media specifically.

When we see culture and community under threat, the increased power and potential of brand investment to help it survive and thrive once again remains our agency’s purpose – so with an ear to the ground and a passing of the mic, we look to those at the forefront of their fields to tell our industry where to start spending and why. Carefully hand-picked from On the One’s network, our connections in gaming, music and women’s sport gave very consistent answers with a clear message. It’s just up to us to start listening… actively.

Danielle Udogaranya aka Ebonix

Dani Ebonix Source Rob Mathie

@ebonixsims Creator, DE&I Games Consultant, Speaker, 3D Artist and Co-Founder of Black Twitch UK

Danielle first caught our eye as she was featured in the Dazed 100. Her DIY approach to Black representation in gaming saw her custom 3D skins for Sims 4 transform the space with over 100 skintones, afro hair, and nails available to show her growing community that the game can be and is a place for everyone.

When we catch up on Zoom Dani brings to life her gaming journey as a natural progression – from seeing her dad’s love for his Nintendo SNES to her own passion for world-building, graduating from Barbies to the original Sims game as a way to tell stories and see herself in the world.

“Sims was just like virtual Barbies for me. At this point, my mum didn't have to keep buying every Barbie that came out. I'd just make a Sim and that would be my new bop”.

Be the change you need to see.

But a chronic lack of representation for Black women in gaming gave Dani a purpose to her passion:

Ebonix Sim Skins Source Rob Mathie

“I saw all these really dope stories that people were making with their Sims but a lot of these characters aren't fitting the kind of narrative that I'm creating in my head. I thought to myself ‘How hard is it to make this skin for them? So I did a bit of research and knew how to use a bit of Photoshop, and I gave it a go. I put my work on Tumblr and people were like ‘Oh my God, where did you get that?’ There was clearly a need for content for the Black community and if there isn't anyone making stuff like this, then I'm gonna start doing it.”

Listen actively to change the game.

From her DIY beginnings, Dani was quickly embraced by the gaming world and has worked with everyone from Nike and their FM Broadcast project for Black athletes and creators to the publishers of Sims themselves, Electronic Arts. Dani is quick to assert that the greatest change can be made by the brands who are prepared to listen:

“EA wanted me to consult on skintones and I thought that it would be really cool if we could reflect people's different undertones and then they added my custom nails which got me in the credits of the game. I’ve kind of gone from being like a nine-year-old just looking at the game to actually being in the credits, which is mind blowing!”

Raise your community with you.

When quizzed around what brands need to do more of to build the community she’s part of, Dani is clear on the benefits of paying it forward:

“I would love to see more of brands working with micro influencers. It's all fun and good putting your entire budget into one person, but imagine the impact that you could have by spreading out the budget with multiple creators. You have a massive influence on the community and when they have that close relationship, they're more likely to have people click on that link and whatever it is that you're promoting.

I co-founded Black Twitch UK for that very reason and we’ve also got Black Girl Gamers – we need to put equity into everyone's pocket and not just the bigger content creators. It’s impact over numbers and numbers don't always mean that it's going to go somewhere.”

Frankie Wells

Frankie Wells Source: Rob Mathie

@frankie_ffm Co-Founder & Managing Director @ Foundation FM

 

Foundation FM launched a few years back and is a female-made radio station based in Haggerston and since we worked together for our client Superdrug, they’ve become 360-thing a record label, management, and a booking agency. All about championing the hottest talent in the female, non-binary and queer world they’ve quickly made a name for themselves in her words “opening the door for these communities and taking up as much space as possible, really”.

Break out of the bubble.

Whilst the station’s London roots are central to its identity, the foundation.fm crew seem committed to creating impact further afield:

“We used to be quite London-focussed and now we’re looking at how we can get a bit more out of the city. Foundation.fm is about opening the door to people that haven’t got opportunities and there is a lot of that here.

Now we’re looking at getting out into the regions and other cities outside of the UK. We were working with Foot Patrol and did a lineup of all-female DJs that went international in the end. We’re finding ways to get communities access to new skills or equipment – it’s about finding a way to get the biggest impact with new audiences as opposed to just thinking smaller and serving the community we already have”.

Go big where it counts, but show up 365.

As a female-led station, Frankie is used to working with brands to connect at key times where their community and activism is at its most visible but she’s wary of brands dipping in and out when it suits them:

“We’re not just looking for another project to be ticked off because it’s International Women’s Day or Black History Month. For example, the week before IWD I’ll have about 20 people calling me seemingly out of the blue with an opportunity that just so happens to be on the 18th March – like I don’t know what day it is! It’s consistent support, opening the doors to places where our community need to be in when they can’t do that themselves”.

Be here for a long time, not just a good time

Similarly, Frankie calls out the importance of after-care when brands activate, ensuring that they have long-term benefits baked in from the off:

“I’m really proud the summer workshop we did for Nike where we had ten 16-18 year olds come in and learn how to do a radio show.  Some of them have gone on to study it at uni and have already graduated and want to come back to us to do an internship which is really lovely.

Stella Mills

Stella Mills Source: Rob Mathie

@stellamills__ Content creator and sports broadcaster

 

A force of nature in the sport of rugby, Stella’s unstoppable drive for equity in the women’s game have seen her pushing in the same direction as On the One as we continue to raise the profile of England’s Red Roses team.

As one of the sport’s biggest TikTok creators, her unique brand of inclusive activism aims to “just be a bit of a voice where there has been silence – start an open conversation between brands, people and committees on what the growth of women’s sport looks like”.

Boost the bottom line when times are tough.

With many big-name clubs going into administration, Stella highlights campaigns providing immediate financial support as a life-line when it counts the most:

“Clinique and have put a really good campaign out with Holly Aitchison, giving £10K to four different rugby clubs. You don’t usually see that amount of money in rugby so it’s nice to see that investment and they’ve done it in a really good way too.

They’re not just handing a cheque to a grassroots club, they either have travel vouchers or they have vouchers for kit and it specifically has goes to the women’s team it can’t be absorbed into the men’s.”

Push for parity.

“O2 have had skin in the game for years in the best possible way – they pay their athletes equal. With them it’s always equal coverage through players – not just a star player but a number of the team on camera. That’s an equal thing that runs throughout their company, they’re really forward-looking. As a brand, you don’t get bigger than O2 – it’s huge, it’s everywhere, everyone knows who they are and so to have them associated with rugby (especially the women’s team) is fantastic”.

We don’t fail, we learn.

Canterbury came back from a big mistake, they learned the hard way. They have skin in the game, they’re a big brand and they have to be responsible for that. When they did make that mistake, they suffered, learned from it they got people like me involved, got Zainab Alema involved to push things forward. They do a lot of work behind the scenes consulting with people who are actually involved in the game.

The above interviews are extracts from On the One’s “Active Listening” report. To request a full report please visit here.

 

Newsletter

Enjoy this? Get more.

Our monthly newsletter, The Edit, curates the very best of our latest content including articles, podcasts, video.

CAPTCHA
1 + 12 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Become a member

Not a member yet?

Now it's time for you and your team to get involved. Get access to world-class events, exclusive publications, professional development, partner discounts and the chance to grow your network.