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What Gillette’s Controversial Ad Teaches Marketers About “Woke Advertising”

What Gillette’s Controversial Ad Teaches Marketers About “Woke Advertising” Blog Feature

January 21st, 2019 min read

Unless you haven’t been on the internet in the past week, you’ve likely seen the Gillette’s new socially-charged ad.

The commercial, released just over a week ago, has created quite a buzz online, generating over 55 million views across various social networking websites -- and with good reason. 

The ad explores the topic of toxic masculinity and  #MeToo movement and encourages men to support women, and each other, to truly be the “Best a Man Can Be,” rather than just the “best a man can get” that Gillette’s slogan has urged for the last 30 years.   

On their website, Gillette further explains their stance on this campaign and their mission, stating:

“It’s time we acknowledge brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive, and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.”

“We have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate.”

“From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette - in the ads we run, images we publish to social media, words we choose, and so much more”

The response to this ad was extremely mixed (some supporting it and others arguing Gillette should stay out of it), but it did generate a lot of reactions and prompted conversations about masculinity - and what a brand’s role is to speak out on controversial social issues.

The Age of “Woke” Advertising

This isn’t the first ad like this we’ve seen this past year - Nike’s "Dream Crazy" ad with Colin Kaepernick and Proctor & Gambles “The Talk” ad also took a stand on controversial issues.

These ads were not aimed at promoting products, but at addressing social issues.

The internet has named this type of marketing strategy “Woke Advertising.”  

For those who don’t know, “Woke” is a slang term that refers to awareness of important facts or issues, mainly current social issues.

In the past, brands have stayed out of these conversations, in fear of alienating their audience, however, this has changed in recent years, and brands are more willing to take risky stands on social issues.

Why is “Woke” advertising becoming so popular?

Frankly, when done correctly, it’s good for business. For example, Nike’s ad, despite the controversy and backlash, added over $6 billion to the company’s value.

Why does it work? Essentially, there are three key factors that make this strategy work for brands.

1. Customers Want Brands to Take a Stance   

Let me be perfectly clear here: Despite this working for some brands, it's certainly a risky decision (Pepsi’s ad with Kendall Jenner is a prime example of this).

However, while there’s always the very real risk of alienating audiences, there are numerous studies that show today’s consumer is looking for purpose-driven brands that they can align their values with - as a way of “voting with your dollars” to show support of a brand’s messaging outside of their specific product.

In fact, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink addresses this phenomenon in his 2019 Letter to CEOs, stating:

“Society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues.”

“Fueled in part by social media, public pressures on corporations build faster and reach further than ever before”

“Purpose [driven-advertising] guides culture, provides a framework for consistent decision-making, and ultimately, helps sustain long-term financial returns for the shareholders at your company”

When you look into what was happening before they ran this ad, it starts to make more sense.

Gillette’s stock and sales have been dropping, as they were finding it difficult to compete with low-cost brands like Dollar Shave Club.

This campaign was likely created in hopes of generating enough buzz for the consumer to make a purpose-driven decision to by Gillette products rather than a cost-driven decision to choose the more affordable competitors.

2. Sparking Dialogue Generates Brand Awareness

Whether you loved it or hated it, Gillettes ad certainly got people talking about it.

The influx of people sharing, commenting, and writing their own reactions to the ad caters directly to the algorithms on social media - which only prompts more shares, comments, and responses.

This allows the brand to expand their reach far beyond what they could do if they were paying for television spots or paying for video ads.

Marketing Land reports that social media buzz is the main driver of the increased sales for brands with these type of ads and this applies to negative feedback as well.

The old saying “All press is good press” seems to hold true here. The more and more people are talking about a brand allows them to be top of mind for the consumer.

It’s too early to tell if this will work for Gillette; The true test will be to see how their sales increase or decrease over the coming weeks, but it’s clear their initial goal of generating conversation succeeded.

3. Social Media Provides Immediate Feedback

While creating a buzz is crucial, perhaps brands are becoming a little more daring with their ads because social media provides immediate feedback that traditional advertising does not.

A decade ago, the only way to tell if your television or print ads were successful was to wait and see sales results. Even then, there was no direct attribution.  

Today, brands have the advantage of using social media to see how consumers are responding to their efforts.

Because of this instant feedback loop, brands can directly attribute certain campaigns with increased or decreased engagement and adapt in real time.

It’s likely attention to social listening tactics has caused brands to take bigger risks than they would without them, and they’re aiming to be inserted into the conversation more than ever before.

Key Takeaways from Gillette

While “Woke” Advertising methods have been effective in the past, it’s likely best to leave this to the multi-billion dollar corporations that can afford to alienate segments of their audience, unless of course, the issue at hand directly impacts your business/industry.

As more and more brands take their own approach to these types of ads, it's going to be important to pay close attention not just to the immediate reactions - but what it does for the business down the line.

Whether you agree or disagree with the stances the brands are taking, at the end of the day, these companies are out to make a profit. From a business perspective, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in 2019 and see how this tactic plays out in the long-term.

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