Racing for a cause: The evolution of brand purpose

Racing for a cause: The evolution of brand purpose

"Consumers want to buy and support products from brands that care. But as with any movement, these things take time."

Nike was an early adopter of becoming a brand with a cause. While their wares predominately lived in the realm of sports-wear and gear, as a brand, they stood for so much more. They connected with athletes on a level far beyond a sneaker or a pair of running tights. They found a way to capture the thrill of a race—the feeling of your pulse pounding in your ear—the sensation of crossing a finish line, in the marketing they created, brought to life and consistently delivered upon through their iconic tagline: JUST DO IT.

They stood for groundbreaking achievements, and represented athletes who surpassed all expectations, defying the odds every step of their journey. Which is why this past Sunday, when their new ad, Dream Crazier, about the uphill battle of female athletes, debuted at the Oscars, it made sense for them as a brand. And the internet rose as one to compliment them on creating this beautiful and momentous piece of film and advertising, marking a milestone in the plot points of the women’s empowerment movement.

Why then, did a brand like Gillette encounter such drastic backlash in the aftermath of their recent ad, We Believe: The Best A Man can Be? In spite of a seemingly positive message of how we should all aspire to be better than the people who came before us, people were up in arms about their dislike of the spot, generating "more than twice as many "dislikes" as "likes," with consumers "vowing to dump their Gillette razors and wage a boycott." Why such vitriol for a brand that was trying to do good?

In short, the answer to this question, is because while Nike has built its reputation on being purpose driven and having a strong perspective, Gillette has for years been a brand that sold, well, razors and deodorant. Now, as they begin to dip their toe in the waters of purpose driven marketing, people are uncomfortable, not used to seeing this side of them. And as with anything, first attempts don’t always work out quite as expected and though well intended, gender, and all its inherent complications, is a very sticky topic for a brand to tackle these days.

That being the case, the fact that a brand as ubiquitous as Gillette, owned by none other than P&G, a company that spends 7 billion dollars on marketing each year, produced this piece, should be applauded for their bravery rather than vilified for it. Having been on the other end of trying to sell in a controversial concept to a client, I can tell you first hand that it takes a bold client to be willing to take a stand. And essentially antagonizing your consumer base to make a statement about the #metoo movement is nothing short of incredibly admirable.

To return to where we started, it’s great that Nike made such a beautiful, impactful spot. But it’s easy for them to do so. What’s less easy is for a brand like Gillette to tell the world that they too care enough to make a difference. And just like the women in Nike’s spot, though they may be crazy to try, that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. Slowly but surely, we’re seeing more and more brands stepping up to the plate, taking a stance in support of something greater than themselves. For example, Seamless has an initiative in February that consumers can donate their change to NYC Kids Rise.

Consumers want to buy and support products from brands that care. But as with any movement, these things take time. It’s hard for consumers to wrap their head around a brand that previously sold mere products, now trying to influence change. But this is important work. It sparks conversation. It paves the way for other brands to do the same. So we need to give brands the space they need to feel their way, and support their efforts rather than looking for opportunities to tear them down.

Jamie Silverman is the creative director of Berlin Cameron.

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