Protest or profit? We look at brands that are using their platform for a bigger purpose and the impact that brands can have on social issues.

Have you ever met someone who has the same views on all the stuff that’s important to you and then you immediately became best friends? Now, have you ever met a brand that does the same? Today, more than ever, we’re seeing brands side-shuffle away from being neutral and instead, taking a stance on what’s meaningful to them and their audiences. In fact, a 2018 survey by Sprout Social, said that 66% felt that it was important for brands to publicly do this.

Back in the day, we were always told that brands should never talk about ‘money, religion or politics’ but this new age of chucking the rule book out the window, marks a refreshing change for brands who can finally say what they’ve been dying to say for ages or in fact, look back at who they once were and pave a whole new path for future generations.

Gillette: The Best Men Can Be

Probably the biggest stance we’ve seen so far in 2019 (yes, it’s only March) came from razor-giant, Gillette with their ‘The Best Men Can Be’ campaign. You’d be forgiven for thinking we made a typo there (we had to triple check it ourselves), but with the new campaign came a whole new tagline, moving away from ‘The Best a Man Can Get’ and a new direction for the brand with a polarising video to launch.

In a nutshell, the video shows examples of toxic masculinity and then positive examples of men stepping in to encourage change.

Gary Coombe, President of Global Grooming at Procter & Gamble (who own Gillette) said: “By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behaviour, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come.”

The ad was the first by a mainstream brand to tackle the #MeToo movement head-on and naturally, split audiences all over the world, despite being made for the US market. For some, it was an inspiring step towards a new definition of what it means to be a man, for others, it was an attack on masculinity and then of course, there were people who were a bit flabbergasted by the sudden change from Gillette’s he-man, macho image of smooth faces, big muscles and 80s power-ballads (which launched their ‘The Best a Man Can Get’ campaign during the 1989 Super Bowl).



In an interview with Business Insider, Pankaj Bhalla, the Brand Director for Gillette and Venus said: “It isn’t a social statement or a political one at all. It is a statement of self-reflection from a brand that caters primarily to men — that one of the ways they can be the best version of themselves is by being great role models to the next generation. The idea was to get people thinking, because the belief was that good advertising does trigger a healthy debate.”

To support the campaign (and practice what they preach) Gillette has partnered with the Building A Better Man project, which aims to reduce violence, and The Boys and Girls Club of America, which helps young men develop better social and communication skills. It’s also donating $1m (around £778,000) a year for the next three years to US charities aimed at supporting men.



HSBC – We Are Not An Island

Bringing things back over the pond, you might’ve noticed the ‘We Are Not an Island’ campaign by global bank, HSBC – most likely on the sides of bus stops, or on that billboard you always drive past on the way to work.

An HSBC UK spokesperson said:  “With the ‘We are not an island’ poster we are reinforcing our strong belief that the things that make us quintessentially British are the things that make us inescapably international.” Which, when you think of it, comes across pretty well in this copy-only campaign, which they then localised for Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds.

Of course, with the current political situation – and the role that banks will play in what that looks like – a lot of people took this is as HSBC’s stance on the Brexit debate, although that has been since been denied by HSBC UK. Again, people were either totally for the campaign, totally against it or a tad confused, given HSBC previously hinted that they’d leave the UK ‘indefinitely’.

Regardless of the neutral intention, the campaign is what the audience makes of it, and if the response is anything to go by, HSBC have an accidental anti-Brexit stance to either uphold, or try to straighten out over the next few months without coming across as pro-Brexit. If anything, it got people chatting about HSBC in the pub (which, in brand awareness terms, can only be a good thing).

Nike: Dream Crazy

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”

Don’t know about you, but we’re sold by that line alone. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the iconic ‘Just Do It’ slogan (seriously, where do these guys find their copywriters?) Nike put former NFL Player and activist, Colin Kaepernick front and centre of their ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign.

This, of course, refers to Colin’s kneeling protest during the American national anthem to bring attention to social injustice and police brutality. He said:



“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

The protest led to heated debate and arguably cost Colin his NFL career (see what Nike did there with that line?), but it also showed a massive amount of bravery and the power of taking a stance. By choosing Kaepernick to star in their campaign, and donating to his Know Your Rights program, Nike also took a stance by supporting his cause.  Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice-president of brand, said:

“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward. We wanted to energise its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes.”

The response was um, contrasting, if we wanted to put it lightly: On one hand, you had people burning trainers and cutting their socks in half  (as you do) and on the other, Nike’s profits jumped by 15% to more than $1 billion.

That’s the thing with taking a stance, it’s full of risks.

One of biggest risks is that when you – as a brand – decide to lead with your stance, you’re potentially standing for something that half (or more than half) of your audience disagrees with. And so, you could potentially lose a load of customers and profit along the way.

However, on the other hand, that could actually be a really good thing – stay with us, we’ve got a point, promise. When a brand voices their stance, they’re making a public call out for like-minded people to join their tribe, either as customers, partners or employees. And when you have a group of like-minded people, great things start to happen. Interestingly, losing some fans could actually be the whole point, which John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll, pointed out on the Nike ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign:

“Nike took a strategic risk to alienate some customers in order to appeal to their core base of 18 to 29-year old males. It was a calculated move to become a more polarising brand and it seems to have worked.”

For us, being true to your values means that sure, you might lose a few people along the way, but you’re left with a bunch of people who really love what you do.

“In a world where everyone is shouting for attention, brands that are brave enough to be themselves, stand up for what they believe in and can tell their stories well, are the brands that win. It’s better to have 500 people that love your brand, than a thousand people that like your brand.” – Andrew Dobbie, Our Founder

In the same study by Sprout Social mentioned above, 53% of people say they feel connected when a brand’s values align with their own, and when their personal beliefs align with what brands are saying, 28% will gladly give that company public praise, which is like, the greatest gift you could ever get from your audience (even better than surprise burritos, and that’s saying something).

For a lot of brands, they worry that by getting involved in social or political issues, they could be accused of ‘woke washing’ and jumping on protest for profit – which, for some, could unfortunately be true *shakes fist*. However, the perception of some shouldn’t stop the good guys from doing good and with huge global platforms and huge advertising budgets (hello Super Bowl) brands have the power to truly impact change. In a 2017 study by Edelman Insights, 51% of people said that brands have the potential to solve more social issues than the government! Even those brands without big spends can make positive change – either on a local level (or, thanks to social media) on a much larger scale than they could’ve ever imagined.

So, how does a brand – big or small – take a stance? Long before the videos are made, the manifestos are written and the press releases are sent out, really taking a stance starts with knowing your brand’s purpose and values. Only when you really know those brand values, can you start to live what your brand believes in. Social media has opened up a whole new era of transparency and – in a good way – it has forced brands (and the individuals within those brands) to hold themselves accountable to what they preach. Audiences want to see action, long before they see adverts, which, when you really think about it,  isn’t too much to ask. If a business knows who they are, stays true their values, sticks to their promises and uses their platform to make a positive impact on this world, then there is no question that brands should absolutely have a stance.

Need a hand with those values? Check out the work we’ve done with these brands and get in touch!

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