Mixing Business with Controversy

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More and more corporations, but big and small are entering the public discourse on controversial and often inflammatory debates.

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of corporate social justice efforts.

In 2017 Pepsi weighted in on the Black Lives Matter scenario by creating an ad with Kendall Jenner sharing the beverage with Police Officers.  Pepsi admits that the campaign – aired at Super Bowl – was a dismal failure with more detractors than supporters.

Earlier in 2016 Nike chose to champion Colin Kapernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem in protest of alleged police brutality in minority communities. The public display created a heated ground swell of both support and opposition. Nike picked a side and benefited. They report that the ad which states, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It” added six billion dollars in sales to their coffers.

Now Gillette has stepped into the #MeToo movement rhetoric which alleges that something called “toxic masculinity” is a problem for women and children.  The two minute online only ad, created by the global ad agency Grey New York, is purported to encourage a dialog around certain male traits that are offensive and in need of remediation. The early reports are not good for the manufacturer of razors, toiletries and other men’s products.  With 13 million views, admittedly a massive number, 325,000 responded positively to the content and more than double, 700,000, have rejected the premise.

The lesson here is corporations need to be extremely careful when they want to enter into the public discourse on divisive and hot topic controversies.  Each of the many issues that abound today touching one of those with a marketing campaign wrapped inside a position piece can be damaging to the brand.

Nike’s success was not an outlier.  A huge client demographic for the brand is the minority community that aligns itself with the position Kapernick was standing up for.  Nike calculated that they were speaking directly to them.  Because their market share is so large it was a gamble that any push back would be momentary.  The ad didn’t have a long shelf life and faded quickly.  Again that was by design.  It was a stealth campaign, hit and run in today’s world of advertising were good ad live very long lives on all platforms.

So, unless your company is a Nike equivalent and you have the marketing expertise they have you should stay out of the many controversies that swirl around us today.

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