Brand activism: is it worth it?

posted on 21st Jan 2019 by Kerry Matzelle

It’s happening more and more, big brands taking stands on socially pertinent issues. Sometimes with great success, sometimes not so much. Who could forget Pepsi’s suggestion that a soft drink was all it took to end police brutality? (Soz for bringing it up again, Kendall!) More recently, we saw it when Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of their 30th anniversary campaign. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” So powerful, I still get goosebumps! The feeling was not mutual amongst all Nike consumers, with a considerable number deciding to boycott the brand and even engulf their Nike apparel in flames. Ah, the power of advertising.

Now, Gillette has joined the brand activism party. New year, new attempt to make the world a better place. Of course, not everyone is thrilled. Their newest ad is a short film that explores toxic masculinity. In just one week, the 1 minute 48 second ad spot garnered over 24 million views on YouTube and 1.1 million dislikes. And umpteen amounts of outrage! The ad took Gillette’s slogan ‘The Best A Man Can Get,’ and turned it into a poignant question – ‘Is this the best a man can get?’ A very divisive question, apparently. I conducted some minor research of my own, asking friends and colleagues if they’ve seen the ad and what they thought of it. I even spent some time scrolling through the comments below the ad on YouTube – some trolls, of course, but some interesting thoughts from both sides.

It was after having various conversations that I realised it actually didn’t matter what the overall consensus was on ‘like’ or ‘dislike’. Because, regardless of whether it was a positive or a negative opinion, we were still talking about it. And we probably wouldn’t have been talking about it otherwise. Isn’t that the whole point? Gillette could’ve used their (probably very comfortable) budget on direct, straightforward advertising. But instead, they took a risk. There is no doubt that ad was sense-checked half to death in a room full of people playing devil’s advocate. They were likely very well aware of the malarkey such an ad could cause and they went for it anyway.

The world keeps proving itself to be a crazy, crazy place. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of large-scale issues but we have quite a powerful tool at our disposal – the media. (Yes, contrary to the belief of one particular world leader, the media might not be the cause of all of the world’s problems!) It’s easier than ever to get strong messages out to the masses. Not everyone is going to agree – such is life. There still resides a cynical sentiment around the disciplines of marketing and advertising. Brand activism is something that we should appreciate and encourage. Ads can serve a higher purpose rather than being mere revenue generators. And after all, if a message manages to spark a conversation that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, we’re doing okay. Hopefully people refrain from burning their deodorants and shaving creams – a bit more flammable than tracksuits and runners!

Kerry Matzelle, Brand Strategist

Originally hailing from New York City, Kerry’s been livin’ it up Emerald Isle style since 2014. She holds a Psychology degree and a record for rolling the fastest burrito in the Republic of Ireland – both which she deems of equal importance. She’s absolutely thrilled to be part of Team Neworld. What a time to be alive!