For the bulk of the 20th Century, Madison Avenue followed the unwritten commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Court Controversy.” Brands lived in a bubble. Advertisers didn’t want to take sides on an issue because the other side could be offended or angered. That could impact sales. But, as a Nobel Prize winning bard once wrote, “The Times They Are A Changin’.” Gillette is the latest to join the fray.
We know that when brands connect themselves with a cause it can improve their public perception and increase sales, especially among women and Millennials. Now we’re learning that when brands take a side, they can gain more than they lose. Nike stock soared after its ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick. He is the former NFL player who decided to kneel during the national anthem. Some burned their Nike gear in protest of the protest, but Nike sales climbed 31%.
Now we have a YouTube Gillette ad/video, “We Believe,” which speaks to bullying, toxic masculinity and the #MeToo movement. The company’s tagline has long been, “The Best a Man Can Get.” That refers to a better shave. In the new ad, the line is changed to “The Best a Man Can Be.” That refers to a better gender.
Gillette, which is owned by Proctor & Gamble, has also put money where its mouth is. They’ve pledged to donate $1 million per year for the next 3 years to a non-profit working in the U.S. to help men “achieve their personal best.” According to Adweek, the first beneficiary will be the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
This is more than a temporary trend. Nationally and globally, brands are going to be addressing issues and taking sides more often. One industry expert adds that while it’s risky, advertising is a quest to be remembered and remain relevant. In that sense, even negative feedback can be productive. “Love me or hate me, just don’t ignore me,” is an axiom in show business and often applicable in advertising.
Global, national, and in some cases regional brands have geographic cover. They operate in a marketplace that encompasses a full range of opinions. Regardless of the side they take on a controversial issue, a large segment of their customers or potential customers are going to agree with them. Local brands don’t always have that advantage.
It boils down to a difficult choice. Businesses advocate and lobby all the time on issues that affect their own particular industry and their bottom line. Now that we know taking a side has a positive side, it’s going to become more common. It’s walking a razor’s edge. Pun intended.