April traditionally begins in a myriad of mirth, with brands showing their playful sides on everything from fake products (avocado Coca-Cola anyone?) to parliamentary offices taking the time to troll…unless of course EU Passports will indeed be taking on a very different brand identity in the coming months.
Whilst brands are generally safe playing along with the April Fool’s Day fun, when it comes to more serious matters they can get into difficulties.
For many businesses, major current movements, from Time’s Up and Black Lives Matter, to the debates around Equal Pay and the use of plastics, will resonate with their audiences. Many will feel a temptation to show their support, aligning themselves with the values of these groups and showing solidarity with those affected by the subject matter.
However, this kind of action, no matter how well intentioned, can backfire spectacularly if mishandled.
Make no mistake, there have been some big errors made in this area. We’re all familiar with Pepsi’s disastrous ad, based on the premise that Kendall Jenner and a soft drink bottle can calm a protest, which aired at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests. A huge miss-fire.
Other recent examples include Zoopla’s use of Me Too on London Underground ads to promote their property website service and Dove’s controversial Facebook ad. While it can be argued that these adverts are explicitly tying into a movement, they all carry messages and themes that tie into incredibly serious conversations in insensitive ways.
With so many high-profile brands making such seemingly obvious mistakes, is there a way to get it right, or should brands simply steer clear of high-profile debates?
There are some great examples of brands doing fantastic work to support issues they believe in. Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign has received praise for its encouraging message and for getting an additional 1.6 million girls exercising in 2016. There was also a flurry of brands coming up with quirky, sweet and empowering adverts around same-sex marriage rulings.
So, what makes the difference? If you’re looking to align your brand with a current affairs topic, there are two key points to consider:
It’s not about advertising
This is a point that trips up a lot of brands. Becoming involved in a movement must be a commitment; anything that can be viewed as a cynical attempt to squeeze your company name into the wider debate with the hope of driving up revenue is going to fail.
Live the change you’re pushing
Audi ran a campaign during the 2017 Super Bowl aimed squarely at the issue of equal pay. The brand initially received praise for the advert, in which a father questions how he is able to tell his daughter that she won’t earn as much as a man in her future career.
Unfortunately, the campaign became unstuck when it was pointed out that Audi had its own issues on equality, with no women on its Board of Directors and only two on its US executive team.
If you’re confident both issues are addressed, run a common-sense test – ideally bring in an independent focus group and gauge their feedback. Ask a difficult question, what is the end goal for the campaign?
As a general rule, if the end goal revolves around raising your brand profile, increasing sales or pushing key features of your products, it won’t end well. Instead consider teaming up with a charity to run an awareness campaign or become noted for taking a stance on an issue – for instance you may feel that restaurants or supermarkets should aim to reduce plastic waste, or your adverts could aim to educate audiences on how they can become involved with a wider campaign.
When it comes to aligning your brand with a cause, it comes down to this - consider the reasons behind your involvement, and whether your inclusion will be viewed as a welcome addition… or a cynical ploy.