PR Buzz Word #8: Woke

If you’ve watched the recent hit series Dear White People on Netflix, followed the Black Lives Matter movement or read The Guardian lately, you’ll have seen the term ‘woke’ becoming more frequently used.

‘Woke’ became popular in 2016 when it was used in the form of #StayWoke along with other hashtags like #SayHerName, and #ASeatattheTable. They were used to promote the #BlackLivesMatter movement and political awareness.

But, originally the term stems from much earlier literature, with the first recorded instance being in 1962. Nicole Holliday has written a guest blog about the origins of ‘woke’ called ‘How ‘woke’ fell asleep’ for the Oxford Dictionaries blog, OxfordWords.

Nicole makes some great points and her blog definitely helped me understand the wider ranging implications behind the term.

So, what does it mean?


The English Oxford Dictionary defines ‘woke’ as…

Alert to injustice in society, especially racism.

Wikipedia defines ‘woke’ as…

A slang word from African American Vernacular English which refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice

Urban Dictionary defines ‘woke’ as…

Being Woke means being aware. Knowing what’s going on in the community. (Relating to Racism and Social Injustice)

I think these definitions are correct depending on the context. More people are starting to use the term to only mean being aware without the social injustice and racial connotations. Like Nicole said in her blog post, the word is still evolving.

There’s also a recent article on The Guardian which addresses how brands are trying to harness or fake the ‘wokeness’ to target millennials to earn money. It’s called Faking ‘wokeness’: how advertising targets millennial liberals for profit.

Therefore it’s important to understand what ‘woke’ means and how trying to use it for advertising, like Pepsi did with the Kendall Jenner advert, might not be the best strategy to employ.

Have you used the term ‘woke’? When would you use it? How do you think the term is evolving?

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