Pushing for Change or Pushing for Profit?

Everyone’s familiar with the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign launched in 2004 – inarguably a legend in the annals of concept advertising. The campaign, aimed at challenging the existing standards of beauty, was the first significant push by a major brand towards emotionally empowering marketing. After the phenomenal success of the Dove campaign, other brands flocked to follow suit, some hopping on the bandwagon more gracefully than others.

During last Sunday’s Super Bowl, companies, as is tradition, brought out their A-game, showcasing brand-new advertisements for the eyes of approximately 114.4 million potential consumers. These 30-60 second spots, brief though they were, were the result of months of conceptualizing and the departure of an eye-watering sum of cash. After all, when else do you get a crack at an audience this vast and diverse?

While Nationwide’s grim, dead child spot provoked the most conversation, and potentially prompted parents across the nation to wrap their offspring in bubble wrap, the “Like a Girl” commercial from Always wasn’t far behind.  The ad highlights the negative connotations associated with the phrase “like a girl,” posing the question: “when did doing something ‘like a girl’ become an insult?”

On the other end of the gender spectrum, Dove Men+Care debuted their “Real Strength” ad that depicted various heartwarming moments between men and their children, closing with the statement that “care makes a man stronger.” An interesting sentiment when juxtaposed with the testosterone-fueled spectacle of the Super Bowl.

While the positions expressed in both ads are admirable, the authenticity of their conviction is tenuous, at best. At the Super Bowl party I attended, at least, there was a visceral “huh?” moment when an array of body wash products appeared to mark the end of a commercial that had, moments before, been turning more than one viewer misty-eyed.

This begs the question, are these companies seriously invested in bringing about social change, or are they only looking to boost brand perception?

If, as has been the case since 2004, we see a continued uptick in the number of emotionally-empowered and socially conscious ad campaigns, what’s to keep consumers from becoming cynical or indifferent? Perhaps they’ll take the route I imagine most people do when confronted with yet another heart-wrenching ASPCA commercial and simply change the channel.

The shift towards uplifting marketing has been for the most part a positive and engaging one, and these influential companies have the potential to make significant change. But if the messages lack authenticity, both brand and bottom line may suffer.

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