Brand Activism: What the internet thinks of your purpose

24.10.2017

Written By: Tom Law

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Every day the internet feeds us with a wealth of  information which has been shared, re-tweeted, re-phrased and sometimes reconstructed. It could be a public figure that has made a fool of themselves, or a brand that has offended a large group of people. Internet users swarm in, criticising, picking holes and attacking, until they get bored or until something else distracts them. It isn’t a new phenomenon, but the question is: what are the long-term effects? And what can we learn from it?

#DOVE figures last week

Dove supposedly became a racist company last week. A company which has been a pioneer in producing some of the most culturally sensitive campaigns of recent times. Dove apologised, even though a few extra clicks of research revealed the campaign was skewed and misrepresented by social media. Lola Ogunyemi, the model from the advert herself said, “If you Google “racist ad” right now, a picture of my face is the first result. I had been excited to be a part of the commercial and promote the strength and beauty of my race, so for it to be met with widespread outrage was upsetting. All of the women in the shoot understood the concept and overarching objective – to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.”

Internet outrage is pretty common when a brand is seen to be getting behind something considered ‘controversial’. Earlier this year, McCain chips teamed up with Adam&Eve/DDB and brought out a beautifully produced advert celebrating all forms of ‘family’. However, McCain received a flood of complaints because they showed a gay couple. They then got equally criticised for cutting them out of the 30 second TV spot. It’s impossible to please everyone, but it makes you wonder at what point will these subject matters be normalised.

Jigsaw has just come under scrutiny for decking out Oxford Street tube station with their new campaign, ‘<3 Immigration’. In conversation with Marketing Week, Alex Kelly from Jigsaw said, “There’s no question that immigration is a controversial issue in British politics right now but if you risk making people potentially disagree with you then I think it’s worth it as that still creates a powerful emotional engagement, so long as you have a right to talk to them in that environment. I think we do”.

The confidence of Jigsaw’s campaign is its greatest achievement. It’s important for a brand to have a clear reason for choosing an issue to stand behind. Are they doing it because they actually care, or because the topic is just trending at the moment? “We were conscious we didn’t want to approach this with a Pepsi-Kendall Jenner mentality and to make a political statement just for the sake of it”, said Kelly. “We looked at the fashion industry and realised no one talks about the benefits of immigration or the debt we all owe to it.”

We recently interviewed Katy Jalili, an artist and live performer whose shows are an explosion of satirical, macabre scenes. They challenge stereotypes, shout, spit and shake themselves into a frenzy. Defining themself as nonbinary, Katy is very aware of how both men and women are portrayed. “Body politics are important, I remember two years ago body hair was super in – and now it’s not anymore. People who have body hair will always have body hair, it’s not just a phase for 2015. Maybe this year people will get obsessed with body sizes.”

Katy was born in Iran and moved to the UK at a young age. Identifying with any ad campaign can be difficult when you’re nonbinary, given the strict male / female ideology often presented. “The only thing I’ve seen recently that’s made me not feel left out, is Fenty.” Fenty has christened itself ‘the new generation of beauty,’ boasting 40 shades of foundation. The new campaign shows 15 models, from different ethnicities and body sizes.

The response has been extremely positive. It goes without saying that any disconnect from what a brand says versus what it believes is where it risks failure. The fashion and makeup industry does have a responsibility in this arena. People are the focus, and how they are represented. Take a look at this shocker from Zara for example:

The internet responded:

We need to question whether political or social statements that brands make are really genuine, and more importantly what sort of impact they’re going to have. Whether the campaign is social, political, or addresses large communities such as LGBQT+, brands need to be prepared to stand behind their convictions; being caught following a trend isn’t cool. No one wants to see a Gangnam Style themed advert 3 months after the hype. Otherwise the internet will take you down.