The Upsides & Downsides Of Tying Your Brand To A Social Issue

social issues

I saw this post a few weeks ago and dragged it onto my desktop. I have been thinking about it on and off since then and really can’t decide where I stand on this issue.

Back in the day when I was in the ad agency business, this was not a common practice at all. In retrospect, I believe it had more to do with budgets than with society at large.

But with the advent of the Internet, advertising, like a lot of other things, changed and became more focused on storytelling. And as that process matured the idea of trying your brand to a social issue started to become more popular.

I believe the main reason for this, had more to do with the media that were being used and the need for stories with many chapters than it did with any sort of do-goody attitude. The latter was kind of the icing on the cake for the former.

The Dove Re-Branding

The first campaign of this kind I can recall in Canada (where I live and mostly work) was for Dove soap. It was created by a couple of ladies at the agency Ogilvy & Mather, (as part of a worldwide initiative) and was both quite unusual and quite brilliant, considering Ogilvy was one of those agencies that were always all about the product story.

So I guess you could call this an innovative idea of sorts. 

Over the next couple of years, Dove slowly but surely became known as a brand that believed that all women were beautiful, and they backed up their claim by featuring women with all sorts of different body shapes, not the conventional ‘fashion’ oriented model types.

When I first encountered this campaign, I thought, wow. How did they get away with that? And then when I thought about it a bit more the ingenuity of it became clear.

From a strategic point of view, they had managed to go beyond just paying lips service to their target audience, and maybe even alienating a good segment of them, by showing ‘perfect’ looking women engaging with their product.

The intention here was quite mercenary in a way. By showing all kinds of different women they basically threw open the gates of perception and countered a huge negative that they obviously had played back to them through their research, which knowing Ogilvy, was probably quite extensive.

And this is where the chicken versus the egg argument comes into play. Because I’m not really sure whether it was their intention that this campaign/rebranding be driven by the social issue, or by the enhanced visual attention it paid to all the different types of women in their target audience.

But at the same time, I’m not really sure that it matters. Because however it was arrived at the net result, for me at least, was a pretty interesting innovation in a world where innovation is quite rare.

And So It Goes

What comes after is quite another matter. Because like any brand venturing out into the social side of things, you run the risk of alienating a certain number of people.

No matter what you do, you will always catch the attention of detractors and trolls. The idea is that you have to hold your ground and follow the vision you have for your brand.

Now with Dove and the way they have rolled this branding out, I’m not 100% sure that they are always on the right side of this issue.

If you read some of the comments attached to this “Self-Esteem” video, you will see that there is a very fine line between the idea of bringing out a woman’s real beauty, and that of creating another impossible to emulate Barbie Doll Image.

And that is the risk you run. It’s a numbers game. If you enter into this arena, where you are attaching your brand to a social or even a political issue, you have to be really confident that you can attract more support than dissent.

I’m pretty sure an international brand like Dove got their ducks in a row in as much as that is possible to do in marketing. So in a strange way I both agree and disagree with the sentiment in the tweet meme I have attached which was actually the core inspiration for this post.

Because the issue of whether you are committed to or simply ‘using’ a social issue is always going to be a highly debatable one.

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