The pros and cons of social-issue advocacy in marketing

This week, Gillette became the latest brand to make a big splash in the culture wars, airing a nationwide commercial that takes aim at the “boys will be boys” ethos that enables bullying, sexual harassment and abuses of power to flourish. And, much like Nike’s daring and successful foray into race relations featuring Colin Kaepernick, Gillette’s message stoked a worldwide conversation on social media, earning the leading razor company buzz, relevance and not a small amount of pushback as people debated the merits and appropriateness of its message.

Given the success of both Nike and Gillette in creating a cultural conversation on a mass scale, it’s fair to ask:  Are so-called woke ads the key to breaking through and creating a lasting connection with the future of America? Should more brands consider taking a stand on important social issues affecting the world? Or do these attempts alienate more people than they attract? Do they therefore carry more risk than reward?

It’s a topic our U.S. MONITOR study, which has been helping brands understand the evolving attitudes, values and priorities of Americans since 1971, can help illuminate. While we won’t speculate about any specific brand’s strategy—only those intimately involved with the creation of these ads know their objectives, some of which may not be obvious to the outside eye—we’ll share a few insights we’ve documented as consumer activism has grown more popular over the last few years. In short, the issue is far more nuanced than it may appear, offering compelling reasons both to get involved and to stay away from this thorny, yet potentially rewarding strategy.

 Why brands should consider using social-issue advocacy in marketing:

Why brands should stay away from social-issue advocacy:

The bottom line? Like everything in the marketing world, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to social issues and advertising. What may work for Nike and its base of customers may be a monumental fail for your brand and target consumers (and vice versa). But one thing is certain:  social-issue advocacy is not a strategy to take lightly. Effective execution requires a deep, fact-based understanding of your target audience, a solid grasp of your organization’s core values and mission, and a smart plan of action when the inevitable backlash surfaces.

Contact Ryan.McConnell@kantarconsulting.com to learn more about how U.S. MONITOR’s insights on the changing U.S. consumer marketplace can help your business unlock growth.


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