By the time you read this, no doubt the furore over Brexit has pushed the furore over Gillette’s latest brand campaign from the headlines. Piers Morgan has turned his ruddy faced fury in some other direction, and we’ve all moved on with our lives.
But let’s dwell briefly on the fact that an ad which essentially supports the idea of men being decent, civil members of society caused such (albeit momentary) outrage.
This shouldn’t be a revolutionary message.
If I casually mentioned down the pub that it’s probably not okay to harass passing women on the street, or that bullying shouldn’t be encouraged, or that teaching your daughter self-confidence is a good thing, I’d wager the response in most corners of the country would be nodding agreement. Nothing in that ad is particularly revolutionary or divisive.
The important difference is, it came from a brand, and is a piece of corporate advertising.
If you’re wandering around John Lewis and a salesperson starts talking to you about razors, you might not relish the conversation, but you’ll probably put up with it. But if they start telling you what kind of man to be, you’d most likely tell them to fuck off.
What next, Gillette’s view on protecting the Green Belt? Their support for HS2? Recommending we get our five a day?
Another example of brands overstepping the mark is HSBC’s recent ode to globalism. It’s definitely better work than Gillette, the writing, the boldness, the development from ‘The Worlds Local Bank’; the smart fusion of localism and globalism. Personally, I like the message. Yet, it runs into the same trap of projecting values onto its audience which stray too far from their core product – banking has sod all to do with your sense of being a global citizen.
Brands, most clearly, are not people. They don’t behave like people. The rules are different. Whether you agree with their sentiment or not, the point is nobody likes being moralised to – especially in an unsolicited manner by large faceless corporations trying to sell you razors.
I’m not suggesting for a minute that brands should only stick ardently to discussing their products – using corporate comms to do some good should be applauded. But there at least ought to be a clear and obvious product link, and most importantly, brands should focus on what they’re doing – not what their audience should be doing.
Take this odd campaign from Dunkin Donuts, the idea of using old coffee grounds to generate biofuel is fantastic – but why did they used it to power a strange little house? If this message was about how they’d found a way to lower the carbon impact of their stores by using a waste product, that would be wonderful – instead it feels pointless and irrelevant.
Conversely, Tom’s asking people to go a day without shoes has an obvious link to their well known brand mission, so it works. Ecover working with The Guardian to reduce its plastic waste is entirely consistent with their brand.
Iceland banning Palm Oil from their products might not fit their brand heritage, but it’s something they’re doing. Imagine the response if Iceland decided to help the planet by closing their car parks to encourage people to walk, rather than use their cars – Piers might pop a blood vessel in indignant rage (which, tempting as it may be, is not a suggestion).
I’ve heard advertising described as being really simple, but also really hard – and I think that sums up this whole debacle. It seems to basically boils down to having a healthy dose of perspective on the position your brand has in normal people’s lives, and building out from that. Would your idea pass the mum test? Would a normal person understand why the brand is doing it?
Tim Whatley | Planning Account Director