When Proctor & Gamble released the new promotional video for its Gillette brand in January, the response was much greater and more emotional than is normally the case for a razor blade manufacturer. Six weeks later, the YouTube video had already collected almost 30 million views and 417,000 comments.
Nike received a similar response in September 2018, when the sporting goods manufacturer chose not to advertise a new product, but simply show NFL star Colin Kaepernick together with the sentence, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Brands are taking a stand on social issues
As different as the participating brands may be, the two campaigns have one common denominator: they convey an attitude toward social issues and consciously accept that this may be offensive to some people. Gillette takes a stand within the worldwide sexism debate surrounding the #MeToo hashtag in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. The video shows images of men and boys mobbing, insulting, oppressing and beating. A voice asks, “Is this the best a man can get?”, which is a reference to the brand’s own advertising claim “The best a man can get.” In the second part of the video, Procter & Gamble then shows attitude, as men are shown taking care of their children, preventing fights and mediating disputes. The appeal at the end: “It is only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best.”
It is a message that was as clear as it was right, but not everyone liked it. On YouTube, the video got about 775,000 Likes, but almost twice as many negative reviews. The criticism ranges from “feminist propaganda” to “unfair prejudice”. Above all, however, men have expressed their intention to never to use Gillette products again.
With Nike, the controversy was more predictable. The official outfitter of the National Football League (NFL) knew full well that the campaign with Colin Kaepernick would trigger great discussions. After all, Kaepernick had already experienced his own personal shitstorm in 2016. In protest against police violence and racism at the time, he decided to kneel during the national anthem before the games of his San Francisco 49ers instead of standing: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He thus became the initiator of the “Take a knee” movement, which had been joined by up to 200 NFL players when US President Donald Trump openly demanded Kaepernick’s expulsion.
The Nike campaign thus not only became a statement against racism, but also a clear signal against Trump: those who wear Nike position themselves against Trump. This caused loud protests among Trump supporters, who even staged shoe burning ceremonies.
Can brands benefit from purpose marketing?
In both cases, boycotts were initially called for, in the case of Nike even by the National Association of Police Organizations, which includes over 240,000 police officers. Retailers like Stephen Martin from Colorado Springs also staged boycotts by selling Nike items for half price in their sports shops. It didn’t hurt the Nike brand. The price of its stock quickly recovered and rose to a record high. And Stephen Martin even had to close his sports shop.
It is still a little early for extensive analysis of the Gillette campaign, but it has not harmed Procter & Gamble’s stock price. Even internally, the headwind is not seen as a marketing error, as Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G, explained: “We expected not everyone to respond positively, but that’s what being a leader is all about. It was time.”
The current Havas study “Meaningful Brands” is also interesting in this context, as Gillette takes a remarkable 7th place in the ranking. The description of the study says:
“Buying today is a political act! 55% of consumers believe brands actually have a more important role than our governments to create a better future! Our findings show that consumers will reward brands who want to make the world a better place and who reflect their values. Consumers are using their buying power to make a stand! There’s no question – brand activism will become a part of a brand’s strategy.”
The Edelman Trust Barometer comes to a similar conclusion:
“Whether people are shopping for soap or shoes, they’re weighing a brand’s principles as much as its products. Opting out of taking a stand is no longer an option for brands.”
Among other things, the study shows that two-thirds of consumers worldwide now buy out of conviction.
The bottom line: attitude is required
If the campaigns that are most talked about are the ones with attitude and we know from consumer surveys that consumers consciously choose brands according to their attitudes toward political and social issues, can we simply ignore that in marketing? We could, but we shouldn’t. The reason is quite simple: the more companies focus on purpose marketing, the more difficult it becomes for latecomers to position themselves and profit from it. In the worst case, brands that do not actively position themselves may even be assumed to have an attitude that they do not want to stand for.