Why do companies really stand behind social issues?
Mackenzie Gellner, Staff Writer
In current times, mental health, feminism, racism and a long list of other topics that have been historically ignored have become major talking points. As a result, many companies are integrating them into their business models. Ultimately, these hot topics have become a strategic way to gain more consumers and followers through perpetrating a sense of thoughtfulness towards social issues.
Although this is a smart business plan, it is important to question whether this strategy is sinister or supportive.
Companies, such as Dove and Aerie, have based their brands around body positivity. Dove has done this through several video commercials that give women of all ages the chance to notice and appreciate their natural beauty. In doing this, Dove gets women to purchase their products because they are portraying the message of supporting everyone’s body.
Although this is an excellent narrative to promote, at the end of the day, one must remember that Dove is still a business. This means they have one primary goal: profit. Regardless of whether Dove’s employees truly believe the notion of body positivity as individuals, they are feeding off of a social issue in order to make money.
Yes, this does sound cynical. I’m not suggesting Dove doesn’t support the idea of self-love, but one cannot ignore it is a smart business strategy.
Aerie operates in a similar way by using unretouched and unedited women in their advertisements. Aerie’s campaign, ‘Aerie Real,’ focuses on women feeling beautiful in their own skin through using models of all shapes and sizes in their advertisements. They also refuse to retouch their models in Photoshop to prove to the customer that they are beautiful in their own natural skin.
Yes, it is smart, but is it right?
Ultimately, many companies take on social issues to use as a business strategy because, especially nowadays, there are many social justice issues being brought to light, such as LGBTQ+ rights and police brutality.
Some though, go about this in a detrimental way. Pepsi is a perfect example of what not to do when approaching the topics of police brutality and racism.
The star of the commercial was the iconic model and reality star, Kendall Jenner. The advertisement starts by switching between scenes of different people practicing a skill, all amidst a peaceful protest. As the video progresses, Jenner is shown in a blonde wig modelling. When she sees the protest though, she decides to join by whipping off her wig and wiping off her lipstick. The commercial closes with Jenner leading the group, face to face with armed policemen. To seemingly solve the heated protest, she casually walks up to the officers and hands one a Pepsi. As soon as he drinks it, he smiles and everyone starts cheering. Ultimately, Kendall Jenner and Pepsi saved the day.
Whether the intentions of Pepsi were harmless or not, the ad did not sit well with the rest of the world. Due to its choice in a young, white model as the “hero,” the ad was labelled as ridiculous and offensive. People were outraged that Jenner was seemingly able to end police brutality by simply passing someone a can of soda.
Taking this into account, companies must be extremely careful when developing advertising relating to mental health and social justice issues. It is essential that they consider any way it could come across poorly. This is primarily because, instead of simply using humour or other marketing ad categories to sell their product, they are using serious, and often triggering, concepts. In addition to this, companies have to think and research the specific people they want representing their brand in case they run negatively on any social issues.
For example, this is important for companies who sponsor particular athletes to wear their clothing, such as Nike. When the 2009 Tiger Woods cheating scandal spread like wildfire, Nike dropped him immediately. The better the athlete does, the more sponsors want them. However, if anything negative occurs related to their name, the sponsors will back out.
Here’s the reality: businesses need to make money, however, just because they use social issues to their advantage does not make them monsters. In fact, in most cases, it is beneficial to the cause.
Businesses taking on social issues can be beneficial when done right, like Dove and Aerie as mentioned above. If a well- known, respected company takes a stance on a particular issue, it gives power to the cause because more people will gain awareness and appreciation.
Ask yourself the next time you watch a commercial: is this company really standing up for something or just trying to make a dollar?