In January 2019, a Gillette ad landed the company in some hot water. Jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon, and subsequent movement to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace, Gillette tweaked its sales slogan “the best a man can get” to “the best men can be”, leading to an online backlash accusing Gillette of appropriating a social movement for the sake of profit.
This industry trend, known as “purpose marketing”, follows “a shift in generational values,” explains Lauren Coulman, CEO of Noisy Cricket Ltd and contributing writer at Forbes. “Younger people, in particular, are looking to buy from and work for companies that are more conscientious, that consider the bigger picture … and because of this, there’s a need for businesses to consider more than just profit.”
With product-focused campaigns no longer attracting the clicks, the likes and shares that advertisers crave, more and more of them are latching onto causes. Gillette is not the only brand to have such an ad backfire.
In 2017, Pepsi put out an ad appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement to sell its product; but it backfired and has since been held up as a prime example of how not to do purpose marketing – because Pepsi attempted to challenge decades of police brutality and racial inequality with a can of soda and a white supermodel.
On the flip side, a commercial produced by sports brand Nike featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who lost his job taking a stance on racial inequality, put the Black Lives Matter movement back in the spotlight. And at the same time, the company saw its share price rise.
But just because Nike got it right selling its products, doesn’t mean it has succeeded behind closed doors. While Nike has been championing women athletes, “they have class action lawsuit for underpaying their female employees,” says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University and author of Decoding the Consumer Mind.
“We don’t hear that. What we hear is all the marketing noise around the cause of championing women. As consumers you don’t have to, it’s not your job to fully understand an issue. Which means you may not be hearing the whole issue.”
However, when brands do get it right, they can prove a useful ally in the fight for social justice, and it’s not bad for profit either.
Seth Godin – author, This is Marketing
Lauren Coulman – chief executive officer, Noisy Cricket Ltd and contributing writer, Forbes
Daniel Brindis – forest campaign director, Greenpeace
Kit Yarrow – consumer psychologist, Golden Gate University and author of Decoding the Consumer Mind
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