Just Say It: We salute the brands unafraid to make a stand
Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock all this week, you’ll be aware of the huge hornet’s nest worth of online buzz kicked off by Nike’s decision to chose gifted NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as one of the faces of their campaign marking 30 years of the ‘Just Do It’ slogan.
The reason the choice was so controversial was that ever since he peacefully protested against US government-sponsored racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling rather than standing during a pre-match recital of the US National Anthem Kaepernick has been ostracised by NFL officialdom, ignored by clubs and sponsors and threatened by chest-beating Trump supporters, the alt-right and outright racists.
Whether Nike’s decision was based purely on principles, or a carefully calculated controversy to boost brand awareness (it remains to be seen whether it has a positive impact on Nike’s sales or Kaepernick’s unfairly stalled football career), or both, BALANCE salutes the move and the powerful, positive message it sends out, particularly to young people across the globe. That sometimes it’s more important to do what’s right than what’s expected or safe or easy. Just do it.
But Nike isn’t the first brand to risk it’s reputation (and it’s bottom line) by taking a public position on hot political or social topic. And won’t be the last. In fact it seems in the era of Trump, Brexit, #MeToo, #BlackLiveMatter and more, it’s becoming increasingly risky for brands to not raise a voice of concern over the injustices that rage around us. Besides, recent studies suggest that three-quarters of consumers would like to see brands take a stand on political and social issues more often, so perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg. Of course it means the brands themselves have to be sure their own policies and practices are progressive and responsible before they can go pointing the finger at others, which can only be a good thing too.
So until the next big political brand power move here’s our pick of some of the best we’ve seen so far…
PEPSI VS APARTHEID
Pepsi recent track record with politicised marketing is painfully poor (we won’t dwell on THAT Kylie Jenner disaster), but to their credit, they were one of the very first brands of the modern commercial era to voice their political opinion in a positive way. In 1985, after years of trying to appease activists with smaller measures, they pulled the brand from South Africa to show their opposition to the white ruling government’s racial discrimination and oppressive segregation policies. Although it was morally the right thing to do, business wise, Pepsi lost out to Coca-Cola in the struggle for brand dominance upon it’s return, and it’s foothold in South Africa has never truly recovered. But they can hold their head up high, the did the right thing.
REEBOK VS SEXUAL HARRASMENT
In 2017, President Donald Trump was overheard telling the first lady of France, Brigitte Macron, “you’re in such good shape . . . beautiful.” Reebok came out with a witty, scornful graphic depicting all the ways it’s really not ok to repeat Trump’s creepy catchphrase. It was retweeted around 51 thousand spreading the message far and wide, and gaining the brand plenty of the one commodity Trump clearly does not have for women, or they for him. Respect.
BEN & JERRYS VS GAY RIGHTS INEQUALITIES
Ben and Jerry’s was founded by two self-confessed 60s hippies and their brand has been wearing it’s liberal values on its sleeve since day one. And despite growing to into a global mega brand (part of the huge Unilever empire) it has retained it’s freedom of expression to this day. One cause it has repeatedly championed in territories around the world is gay marriage – renaming flavours to celebrate anniversary of gay marriage rights and refusing to serve two scoops of same-flavour ice-cream in Australia to protest archaic laws. Through this relatively small act, the brand earned world wide recognition as having used it’s power and influence as a force for good.
YOPLAIT VS MUM-SHAMING
Yoplait’s recent much-praised “You’ve Got This, Mum On!” campaign took issue with the endless parade of (predominantly male) policy-makers and commentators who feel compelled to tell mothers what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their bodies and babies in public or elsewhere. The TV spots urged mothers to carry on doing whatever they hell they want regardless of whether they are deemed “wrong”. Highlighting the every day criticism mothers face, in a tongue in cheek way, Yoplait shows that it’s a brand that understands and cares for it’s audience. And the mums (and their supporters) helped to an uplift in interest of 1,461%!
DIESEL VS TRUMP’S WALL
It’s social change objective may be a little vague and its execution somewhat Zoolander-esque but Diesel’s SS17 ad campaign directed by David LaChapelle, certainly drives home a positive message of gender and sexual equality, inclusivity and love while taking a direct shot at Donald Trump’s obsession with building a massive wall along the border with Mexico. Like walls ever solved anything.
PATAGONIA VS THREATS TO THE ENVIRONMENT
Describing itself as ‘An Activist Company’ outdoor clothing brand Patagonia have been mixing business and politics for 45 years, with a focus on protecting the last remaining natural wildernesses on the planet. Their most recent and high profile action was to issue a lawsuit against Donald Trump for what they described as his illegal policy of reduce the size of National Monument conservation areas – specifically two in Utah. Their writ certainly raised the brand’s profile in a positive light among their core nature loving target audience and garnered momentum for the cause in the process. Whether they can win the case, or if Trump will even still be in power by the time it comes to court, is another matter.
BENETTON VS PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING
Long before Diesel, Nike or any other major brand picked fights with the powers-that-be Italian knitwear dons Benetton and their pioneering magazine Colors built their ENTIRE brand and marketing strategy around provoking thought, highlighting injustice and challenging the political status quo. Religion, race, refugees, AIDS, war, famine, prison and poverty; Benetton’s iconic ads and editorials have tackled them all, pushing further than any brand have before or probably ever will. And not a single pastel yellow v-neck in sight.