Unilever’s Dove was just your everyday personal care brand, but this changed in 2004 when they launched their “Real Beauty” campaign. Abandoning their usual rail-thin models for curvier (and more relatable) female figures, the brand generated a 700% increase in sales in the first six months and their publicity skyrocketed. Social values in marketing became the new norm. However, brands inexperienced in the nuances of social value marketing should be wary of potential pitfalls. Eager to tie your brand into social values? Read on…
Gillette’s multi-million dollar mistake
Proctor & Gamble’s Gillette is a giant in the safety razor industry, but with strong competitors like Dollar Shave Club at its heels (a subscription service that sends customers a monthly package filled with essential personal care items), the brand looked to social value marketing to win back their ex-clientele and entice new users.
In 2019, Gillette updated their brand tagline from “The Best a Man Can Get” to “The Best a Man Can Be”. In a new TV ad, the video’s narrator describes how negative stereotypical male behaviours are harming society today – addressing toxic masculinity traits like bullying, catcalling, violence, mansplaining (when men condescendingly explain something to women assuming a lack of competence), and an overall “boys will be boys”attitude. The video states that although some [men] already are good-intentioned, it’s not enough. It urges all men to “say the right thing and act the right way”, and to teach our boys how to be “the men of tomorrow”.
Feedback to the video was frosty at best, and a common sentiment shared amongst the public was that Gillette should stick to selling razors. Although Gillette sought to inspire male audiences with a positive message, the majority of viewers disagreed with the brand’s framing of the issue, resulting in a significant dislike-like ratio on the video (approximately 1.4 million dislikes to 768k likes as of February 14).
Viewers threatened to boycott Gillette, and accused it of poorly piggybacking on the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment – pointing out that the tone of the video was antagonistic towards men, and depicted most men as being brash and uncivil.
“Gillette’s ad feels like a tedious, politically correct public health video – the kind of film we were forced to watch in school about road safety before they invented the internet,” writes columnist Mark Ritson of Marketing Week. “We [men] are not being shown the better path, we are being told we are all on the wrong one and must change course immediately… It’s a poor way to sell razors. Hell, it’s a poor way to sell anything.”
Addressing stereotypes with eloquence
“One of the key difficulties in creating a social brand is keeping your brand mission close to your product… but if it doesn’t link back to your product, it won’t build your brand,” writes Samuel Joy of Marketing Week. According to the book The Social Brand, the anonymous author explains that credibility and authenticity in linking a brand mission to their product will “increase the brand’s likeability by 20 per cent” – figures that have been confirmed by the OP&P research group with a sample size of over 250,000 people.
How could Gillette have framed their argument more positively? Consider the story of Always (one of P&G’s feminine hygiene product brands), and how it pulled off a successful rebranding in 2014. In the past, Always had trouble attracting younger demographics and was seen as a brand for their mothers instead.
In a nod to Dove’s prior success, Always introduced their “Like a Girl” campaign. Commonly used as an insult (eg. “you hit/swing like a girl”), the brand attempted to break the negative social stigma surrounding the phrase, and looked to inspire confidence in girls and women. Rather than condescendingly berating viewers, it tried to reframe expectations by showing how girls aged 5 to 13 interpreted the phrase. Instead of wimpy flailing limbs, confidence and determination came through instead.
The results were inspiring. In addition to winning an Emmy Award and creating a “significant increase” in brand perception, Always managed to drive societal change. From their research, a strong 76 percent of women began associating the phrase with positivity after seeing the video (compared to the meagre 19 percent before). Furthermore, two out of three male viewers vowed to stop using the phrase as an insult. “Every brand, regardless of size can live up to a responsibility, take that responsibility and do more for the world,” says Michèle Baeten, Always’ Global Associate Brand Director.
Social value marketing provides an effective way to boost audience association – provided that it’s done correctly. Keep your message in line with your bran, and stay true to your audience’s perceptions. So before overzealously launching a campaign, test your messages on a focus group first – or better yet, work with an experienced copywriter to ensure your message and narrative pack a resonating punch!