How can brands push creativity in PC culture?

"It's not so much a problem as a change in climate."

Are We There Yet?
Candace Graham
VP, Marketing Director
Petermayer

Tell us about one thing that’s happened recently that leads you to believe that there's still a problem.

It’s not so much a problem as a change in climate. It’s no secret to any of us that brands are constantly on thin ice, as today’s politics and social movements pull people further left and right. Despite these tumultuous times, brands still forge on to create content that speaks to consumers, addresses concerns and connects on a personal level. In this climate, the challenge becomes: how do brands continue to create campaigns that push the boundaries on political correctness.

This concern holds true for brands, which today have to connect with a wide demographic of consumers, while at the same time creating something that sticks and stands out. How do ads get approved today without clearing the PC filter – for every possible special interest group? Every brainstorming session or meeting that I’ve been a part of, someone throws out an idea, and another comes back with why it won’t work. Not because the idea wasn’t strong, but because the idea might offend a specific group.

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

Despite fears of isolating groups at the risk of welcoming others, brands are still pushing the boundaries of what society expects, in order to move conversations forward. Let’s look at Cheerios – that couldn’t be more of a wholesome, American, family brand – and their campaign, which featured two dads in one of their spots. At the time, this was a politically incorrect gesture by definition; conservative groups were in a tizzy, but Cheerios chose to represent today’s family in America, weather the storm and open the door for other brands. And it worked. Brands today feature members of the LGBTQ+ community, and participate in Pride wholeheartedly. Amid the flurry of rainbow logos, which is not without its own controversy, there are dialogues about acceptance and what it should look like; something that was unheard of less than a decade ago.

What else needs to be done to get there?

There is still a lot of work to do in this space. Lest we forget Pepsi’s controversial commercial featuring Kendall Jenner enticing peace with a crisp, cold can of the beverage. It’s no secret this was the wrong approach, and was one of the many examples of a brand using a cause to keep up with social trends, rather than to take a stance in order to move forward. Long-and-short of it, we all overcompensate at the beginning of a movement to show that we’re good people and open-minded. So, how do we do this without it coming across as contrived or forced? In creative sessions and brainstorms, we all need to be better about making great ideas work. The conversation shouldn’t be, "Yes, but…" it should be "Yes, and…" You should work collectively to explore and refine a strong idea without dismissing it outright just because someone might take offense. Because the reality is, you can’t make everyone happy, but you can do the right thing.

Ultimately, it’s important for creatives and brands to accept that the pendulum must swing to the extreme before it gently settles in the appropriate spot. The question is: who is going to be the one to push the pendulum first?

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