Blog 15.08.18

Why marketers should avoid inventing social movements

Can marketers manufacture social movements without creating a #FingerDownTheThroatMoment?

Tapping into social movements: Kendall Jenner offers a drink to police in an ill-fated  Pepsi ad linked to Black Lives Matter.  

It seems not, but this has not prevented professional persuaders from trying, desperate to tap into the power of genuine social movements, such as #MeToo.

Social movements unite people around a common goal of solving a problem. Successful campaigns rapidly expand the network of supporters, creating a critical mass. With enough public support, the movement replaces the establishment (think revolutions) or is accepted by society (women voters), and life moves on.

Social media has certainly boosted social movements, as witnessed by the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter. Politicians have been early adopters of social media, using it to accelerate the pace of social movements they promote. This makes sense because social movements are political by nature and political campaigns have at their core authentic social needs, such as the troubled white working class in the USA co-opted by Trump.

Many leading social media strategists honed their craft with political parties and saw great potential (and a sustainable income) in transferring their political skills to commercial advertising and marketing. If you could use social justice to persuade the masses to vote for Obama, surely you could use it to sell socially-branded laundry detergent, shaving foam and sanitary towels? All you had to do was replace ‘real results’ with #realfacts.’ – see Dove’s advert on this

Spurred on by the unexpected triumph of Dove’s novel Real Beauty Campaign, a series of commercial crusades have been hatched and despatched with varying degrees of success.  We’ve seen “Like a Girl” from Always (sanitary towels), Airbnb’s #OneLessStranger and Audi’s #DriveProgress (gender equality) in the USA.

While these marketing efforts tap into genuine social concerns, such as gender equality, their lack of authenticity means they fail to create genuine conversations, let alone a movement.  For example, Audi’s campaign encouraged equality for women but critics were quick to point out the lack of any women on the car company’s board – a #DriveProgress car crash followed.

Frustrated by the difficulty of inventing social movements, adland has tried to piggy back on others. Pepsi quickly discovered the perils of such a ploy when it ran an ad starring Kendall Jenner promoting what Pepsi saw as peace and love between the police and (by implication) Black Lives Matter protestors. Instead of selling more fizzy drinks, this phoney and truly cringy ad created a social media storm and was quickly pulled. Humble pie was eaten for months after.

The marketing types that hang out at Sustainable Brands conferences are very much in love with inventing social movements that support good causes, like coffee cup recycling, community fridges and the current fashion: banning single-use plastics.

It would be churlish to wish such naïve movement makers anything but success. But they should read their history and know their plans are doomed by the inevitable authenticity deficit of marketing-inspired social movements: they’re just not believable.

Let’s face it, marketers are no good at making social movements, but brilliant at #FingerDownTheThroatMoments when they try.

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