A strong brand will get strong reactions — good, bad, and ugly
Last week, in the midst of a lot of horrible news, a new video in Dove’s latest “Campaign for Real Beauty” campaign attracted heaps of attention the world over. While lots of ad people, and consumers, praised the “Real Beauty Sketches” idea, there were some dissenting opinions and discussion about the video’s message and ultimate impact.
So why are people making such a fuss over one video? How does one brand attract so many polarizing opinions when other brands don’t? What’s the key to creating a brand that’s worthy of discussion?
I’ve written about Dove before, and the conflicting messages sent by other products made by Unilever, Dove’s parent company. And I’ve been critical. It doesn’t mean I think less of the quality of Dove’s advertising ideas. Quite the opposite: I think it speaks of well of the Dove brand that they’re worth discussing.
If you’re going to elevate your brand into something that stands for a higher purpose or speaks to a larger cause, you need to be willing to accept the increased scrutiny and criticism that comes with it.
It’s no surprise that brands that have emphasized a belief system or aspirational messages — Dove, Nike, Apple, Tom’s Shoes, Chick-fil-A, Whole Foods, and many others — have found themselves the object of criticism. Any business practice or customer experience that seems to be contradictory to the ideals professed in the advertising or marketing gets a closer look.
As consumers, and as marketing people, we criticize because we love. We criticize because we care. We want brands and companies to live up to the values they preach.
These days, we’re obsessed with imbuing brands with “belief systems” or creating “movements” around them. Companies are continually attempting to do good or pledging to be more authentic, even altruistic, and aren’t shy about broadcasting it.
Still, few brands have truly aspirational aims. Most companies are solely in the business of generating more sales and higher profits, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s plenty of merit in putting a product or service out there, touting its attributes or benefits and leaving it at that.
As a creative, I always have a desire to bring deeper meaning to the brands I’m working on. When given a rebranding assignment, I’ll write manifestos I wish the brand would embrace or find “values” a brand should adhere to. But I realize that the reality of a brand’s behavior is mostly out of my control. Advertising professionals can advance the words and images, but only with genuine actions on the part of the company and its customers will those values become real. In the absence of something to stand for, there’s often silence and indifference. For most brands out there, that’s the reality.
So for any brand whose advertising seeks to elevate its mission, I say: Embrace the criticism. Embrace the criticism of the criticism. There's no need to change or acquiesce to the concerns of a few critics, but seek to understand their opinions. It comes with the territory of creating a brand that people wish to believe has human values. Because human values, like humans, have shortcomings, double standards, hypocritical tendencies, and internal conflicts.
We want to think that Dove is sincere in their belief that all women are beautiful and should embrace their beauty. Consequently, many consumers will hold them to a higher standard, perhaps an impossible one for a corporation. That’s the way it should be.
Holding ourselves, and our clients, to a higher standard is a constant struggle, and one we ought to aspire to. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the real beauty of it, I guess.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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