The best a brand can get

Gillette’s new ad campaign has sparked another fierce debate about a controversial societal issue. The ad – which criticises toxic masculinity in the context of the #MeToo movement – has divided opinion, prompting both aggressive agreement and vicious criticism.

Like Nike’s campaign featuring former NFL player and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick, Gillette’s campaign has not only aired a point of view, it’s made a clear statement of intent: they’re challenging men to be better.

Some are rightly questioning if brands genuinely care about the contentious issues they are highlighting, or whether they are just trying to profit from an increasingly ‘woke’ audience.

So, should advertising executives be elbowing their way into emotionally charged and deeply complicated issues?

The answer is yes. But only when it comes from a place of total authenticity.

There’s no better example of authentic brand activism than Patagonia. Patagonia has made bringing about solutions to the environmental crisis its mission and it continuously reinforces that through action. One recent example is giving away their $10 million in corporate tax breaks to environmental groups, but there are many more.

Gillette’s efforts have missed the mark because the campaign attacks a stereotypical view of masculinity, which is exactly what they’ve perpetuated for years in order to sell deodorant. That’s why the brand has upset its customer base and fallen short of its ambition; it looks like Gillette has engaged in purpose washing in an effort to sell more stuff.

A prime example of this was the notorious 2017 Pepsi campaign featuring Kendall Jenner. The brand quickly discovered that handing Jenner a Pepsi in a protest was far from enough to prove that it champions world peace.

Why didn’t it work? Because there isn’t an advertising budget in the world big enough to buy authenticity.

In this day and age, if your brand doesn’t continuously prove its commitment to something bigger than selling more stuff to customers it’s unlikely to succeed. But the brands that live and breath their philosophy in everything they do will not only have a loyal customer base, they’ll be able to influence change, and for that people will love them.

22 January 2019

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