The Best Men Can Be. This tagline and the advertisement released by shaving company Gillette early this year sparked a heated debate, with consumers threatening to boycott the brand on one side, and people praising their boldness on the other. Gillette posted a two-minute film that engages with the #MeToo movement — addressing sexism in the workplace, violence, catcalling, and other instances of “toxic masculinity”. They shifted their traditional tagline, “The best a man can get”, to hold men more accountable for their actions, and faced extreme backlash from their main customer base. This stemmed from their male customers feeling alienated and attacked, with some calling it “fuel [to] the current pathetic global assault on masculinity”. Honestly, I found the ad an inspiring and courageous move that forces people to acknowledge the elephant in the room: the ingrained and expected “masculine” behavior that, in many ways, fostered the environment that required the #MeToo movement in the first place. But that’s just my opinion.
"It's high time that corporations use their undeniably loud voices to contribute to important issues."
Clashes in ideology are commonplace. If you randomly select two people and have them argue over a controversial topic, chances are, they would have wildly different opinions. How people view the world is subjective; it is shaped by individual experiences, cultural contexts, and even family values. In a move to be more involved with divisive social and political issues, companies such as Gillette have started to use emotional advertisements dealing with controversial topics such as gender inequality, the LGBT movement, and racial discrimination, among others. However, taking and sufficiently portraying a politically motivated opinion can be hit or miss. The infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad — where the actress was seen pacifying a demonstration by handing Pepsi to a police officer — was pulled out because of unceasing criticism for trivializing the Black Lives Matter protests. Dove apologized for their racially insensitive message in an ad where a black woman becomes white after using their body lotion. On the other end of the spectrum, Nike has received considerable praise for their ad featuring activist Colin Kaepernick, who started the Bend the Knee movement against police violence in 2016.
No matter the reception, this trend of corporate activism is becoming more and more widespread. Gone are the viral ads that merely rely on humor and brand endorsement from the famous. Instead, ads that have a deeper meaning or political opinion are the new standard. This shift in advertising firstly stems from the use of the internet, where longer videos can be posted and shared as opposed to the 30-second television ads. It is also a company’s adaptation to current sentiments; numerous surveys suggest that the younger generation considers social responsibility a big part of choosing a brand. Because of this, it is not unreasonable to accuse companies of “woke washing” and riding on important issues to gain profits.
However, in an increasingly capitalist world, we cannot ignore the fact that the ultimate goal of a corporation is to make money. We also cannot deny that companies indirectly have a huge influence on our choices, as we consume various products on a daily basis. It might be sad that we need a bottle of Pepsi or a five-blade razor to become more aware about important social issues, but at the very least, companies using their power and reach to spark discussions is ultimately a good thing. It also holds them accountable to walk the talk by having their advertising messages fully integrated in their products.
We live in a polarized society. Most of the time, we only get to hear about local issues and local opinions, but companies willing to take the risk of being involved in the discussion can be a big game changer. It’s high time that corporations use their undeniably loud voice to contribute to important issues. After all, to remain relevant, they must become the best a brand can be.