More and more companies are using advertising to tackle social issues, raising awareness while gaining more publicity for their brands. This seems like a win-win, but in reality there is a dark side to this seemingly altruistic method of advertising.
When companies begin to capitalise on important political or social issues, some people might jump onto the bandwagon praising the business as more human, compassionate, or aware. But on a fundamental level, making financial gain from false sincerity is risky at best, and transparently greedy at worst.
Through social media, we are increasingly seeing backlash against insensitive or outright idiotic ads, proving that the highly sought after millennial audience businesses are targeting are not as passive, apathetic, or easy to please as some would believe. Adverts are subject to a level of scrutiny unseen in previous decades, largely due to the internet, with people able to quickly spread a message or identify problematic scenes and messages in a matter of seconds.
In short: people can see through disingenuous premises. Piggybacking a serious issue in an ad to say ‘Look how much we care about this, now buy our product’ only shows people that you’re willing to cash in on people’s struggles for your bank account, not to actually fix the problem.
Rob Baiocco, a creative executive at the BAM Connection who has worked on campaigns for Pringles and Starburst, has said: ‘Companies are avidly and aggressively trying to get involved in a socially responsible space, and they are doing it horribly – they are grabbing at straws. […] They are entering a complex conversation they have no right to be in, yet they are forcing their way in. […] These creatives are trying to make their toilet paper save the world.’
These type of ads attempt to commoditise the issue without ever doing anything to address the underlying cause, and by sanitising and simplifying often complex factors, ads can come off as flippant. A prime example of this is the now infamous Pepsi Advert, which dared to suggest that police brutality could be solved by a soft drink.
On the other hand, there have been adverts in the past that applied a deft touch and some much needed human understanding to a complex issue, leaving forced product placement and slogans out of it, focusing on the issue itself that was at the heart of the ad.
Diesel chose to get political with an ad critiquing the widely lambasted wall that Donald Trump built much of his presidential campaign around promising. It features impossibly attractive people destroying the metaphorical and literal walls that divide us. While definitely cheesy, it comes across much better than the Pepsi ad, due to the fact that it never suggests that Diesel is the driving force behind political change, or that a pair of jeans would help people fight against oppression.
The reason this worked, and the Pepsi ad didn’t, is because Pepsi implied their product magically fixed the problems of racial tension and police brutality. It doesn’t. Diesel, on the other hand, never once presents their product as transformative or the key to solving the problem. It merely allows discussion, facilitating positive change which in turn can inspire viewers to go out and do the same. If you tried to give riot police a Pepsi, you’d probably get tasered.
A similarly divisive ad that came under fire recently was the McDonalds advert that tried to capitalise on child bereavement by suggesting a burger could build a connection between a child and a father he never knew. This movement away from the political sphere was probably seen as a ‘safe’ move by the execs at the company, which needless to say, it wasn’t.
Upon first viewing, if you didn’t know what you were watching, the advert might be considered touching; however as soon as the final shot of the fillet of fish burger lands on the screen, all credibility is lost. While the concept works: the idea that you can have a connection with someone through an external source, even something as simple as a burger, the fact that it is being exploited in an ad cheapens the entire message. The bottom line is: people know you are trying to sell them something.
It’s important to clarify this: If you’re genuinely interested in helping a situation, your brand can be a driving force behind increasing awareness, maybe even helping to start a conversation about ways to move forward. PR is all about pushing a message while providing helpful, interesting content that listeners identify as a source of information, not a sales pitch.
If you can tie your brand into a story that explains what’s going on, that helps clarify or educate, you can be responsible for bringing about positive change without insinuating you have all the answers or that your brand is the saviour of the oppressed. People hate to be patronised, especially people close to an injustice which is already struggling to be taken seriously or attract media attention. The Pepsi advert was the latest in a string of belittling jabs at the Black Lives Matter movement, which was built to stop children and innocent people from being murdered. To help, you don’t want attention on YOU, you want it on the issue.
Creating an editorial video that puts the spotlight on the issue at hand is one way you can show you care without placing your brand at the forefront. Here’s an example our company Televisualise put together that received large amounts of media attention and educated the public:
By using your position to elevate an issue into the public sphere, you lend it your credibility, and in return gain public attention through doing something genuinely helpful.
For more information on how PR can help your brand, visit our Case Studies page, or get in contact with us on 020 7158 0000.