Taking a stand on a political or social issue is nothing new for brands. We’ve already seen Ben & Jerry’s tackle climate change, AirBnB oppose Trump’s travel ban and Pepsi – rather unsuccessfully – raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement. Once upon a time, brands would do anything to avoid taking sides on a polarising argument, but as millennials, in particular, become increasingly invested in businesses which have a good corporate social responsibility, there is a lot of potential in choosing a side of the fence.
The shining example is Nike. In their 2017 ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, Nike risked alienating an existing demographic, in favour of a new, growing and socially responsible one. While the ad sparked controversy, criticism from the President of the USA and a legion of former fans promising to #justburnit, it also attracted thousands of new customers and lead to $6 billion in sales.
Hoping to follow in Nike’s white-ticked footsteps, Gillette recently launched their ‘We believe’ ad, which asks men to hold themselves and others responsible for actions which amount to ‘toxic masculinity’. The ad, which attempts to redefine Gillette’s thirty-year-old slogan – ‘the best a man can get’ – prompted huge backlash on social media, with critics, including Piers Morgan, accusing the brand of hijacking a cause, patronising and accusing their target audience and even artificially inflating the likes the video had received on YouTube.
This response is predictable – at least it should have been. The ad was aimed primarily at Gillette’s American audience, a country divided on almost every important social and political issue, and there were bound to be those who opposed Gillette’s message. In statements released following the video, CFO Jon Moeller states wanting to engage a new and younger demographic and says sales have so far yet to have been affected either way. So far, marketing experts have been as divided as YouTube commenters as to whether or not this ad will pay off in the long run so we will have to wait for the profit and loss sheets to know for sure. While it might not match the runaway success of Nike, if recent history has taught us anything it’s that angering Piers Morgan is brilliant for your brand.
The other business jumping on to the CSR bandwagon this month is Avon. In the now-pulled ad, Avon offered some mixed-message marketing with the statement ‘Every body is beautiful’ alongside ‘Dimples are cute on your face (not your thighs)’. Influencers within the positive body-image movement were quick to condemn the ads, prompting Avon to release an apologetic tweet and reach out to the high-profile commentators.
Unfortunately, this may not be enough. Social media users were quick to point out that Avon will continue to stock the product, benefitting from women’s fear of their ‘flaws’. While many accused Gillette of piggybacking a movement, the brand have at least backed up their stance with a pledge to donate funds to a range of men’s causes. In contrast, Avon have attempted to use the messages of a movement to their own end and in doing so have unintentionallyalienated customers.
The key word here is unintentionally. Both Nike and Gillette understood that they would lose customers by promoting controversial messaging, but both took a calculated risk to tap into a new demographic. By understanding what those potential customers care about, they were able to create ads which demonstrated shared values. Avon, however, fundamentally misunderstood the beliefs of both their existing and potential consumers.
So what does this mean for brands wanting to attract new business by supporting a cause? The first thing is to know your demographic – and the new market you are targeting. Be aware that taking a side risks alienating existing customers so the potential reward has to be high. Finally, make sure you follow through advertising with real change; savvy consumers want brands that will walk the talk.