The rise of ‘ethical’ marketing
It’s not difficult to imagine an impossibly smug room of advertising and PR executives sat around a table marvelling at their own ground-breaking work. Tasked with marketing for a major global brand and aiming it at ‘the youth' they’d imagined that they’d absolutely hit the nail on the head. “What do young people like these days?” they asked, “protests and social justice and Buzzfeed and stuff” came the triumphant reply.
Some months later, having recruited a soulless looking but unimaginably popular teen icon Kendall Jenner the certainty of success reached a plethora. The smugness and back slapping by middle aged white men having excavated human concern for the maximum amount of exposure and profit had begun to reach dangerous levels on the scale.
What happened next must have come as a rather huge shock. After following a sure-fire formula to success by looking caring and ‘in-touch’ the world reacted in an utterly horrified fashion as Pepsi’s new ‘generic social justice’ advert managed to offend just about everybody with an internet connection. The premise was that, having her hair done and modelling for a fashion shoot with a white (yikes) wig on, the mixed-race Kendall hears and notices a protest march taking place. Having, presumably, realised that there are more important things in life than being paid squillions for looking good, she tosses the white (still bad) wig aside and joins the protest. After the protest reaches its intended destination to be met with riot police, Kendall cracks open a cold Pepsi and hands it to a policeman who, rather than being enraged he’s not been given the superior tasting Coca-Cola, then smiles and the crowd begin to cheer. There are other completely bizarre moments with people playing orchestra instruments on the roof of a building but let’s dwell purely on the masterclass in offence.
Despite the world recoiling in justified horror at such a blatant attempt to brand protesting the practice has been going on for nearly two decades now and has been recognised by industry heads. Tony Hale, an advertising industry head who has held senior roles at Clemenger BBDO, speaking to The Guardian said that the prevalence of what Hale terms “cause- or purpose-based marketing”, has escalated in the past three or four years, “There’s no doubt that a lot of brands see that they need to have a deeper meaning to connect with consumers.”
In that time, Heineken have thrown their hat in to a hostile ring with a much better and sensitive effort whereby people of differing political opinions are tasked with building a piece of flat Pak furniture together before being shown a video of the others political views. After having seen the video the two are then asked if they would like to leave or stay for a beer to discuss their views. All of them, predictably, stay.
In his interview, Hale was pretty scathing about the Pepsi effort, saying “The Pepsi one’s the opposite, it’s completely contrived,” says Hale. “It’s trying to say Pepsi plays an active role in solving the problems of the world when it’s a bloody soft drink.”
According to experts like Hale, the public are sadly doomed to being subjected to more and more terrible efforts to make brands look liberal and caring as the marketing world evolves further from simply trying to sell you terrible things to trying to convince you that they can solve racism, class warfare, poverty and any other number of world issues.