With the increasing digitization of consumption, rapidly shifting demographics, new and unique expectations of younger generations of consumers, and a seemingly infinitely expanding array of goods, differentiation is an imperative. A new tool in the marketing arsenal has emerged as a go-to: progressive minded cause marketing. Younger consumers are holding brands accountable to their own ideas for change, a staggering increase in responsibility for companies that have only ever had to worry about mass appeal. Yet, with this opportunity comes great risk, specifically when brands take too narrow of a view.
While some companies have excelled in this arena, at the other end of the spectrum failure could mean companies end up insulting the audience they are attempting to appeal to. Pepsi may take home the prize for biggest marketing snafu of 2017, an unfortunate distinction they impressively managed to clinch only four months into the year. Their recent advertisement, featuring Kendall Jenner, was decried for it’s blatant appropriation of language and imagery associated with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. What PepsiCo had hoped would read as an entreaty for open dialogue, “Join The Conversation,” was bitterly received.
The reasons why some progressive campaigns work and other flop are multifaceted. Often the message feels inauthentic, and consumers who are personally invested in a cause are apt to view such appeals as hypocritical in the context of a brand’s corporate culture, history, or policies. Combating these problems requires outward thinking and engagement, so it’s ironic that these efforts are being hindered by an increasing trend towards moving marketing and branding in-house.
Collaboration and Perspective Creates Opportunity
The pace of the shift is staggering. As of 2015, 27% of companies no longer work with agencies for digital content and outreach, an increase of 13% over the 2014 figure, and growing. Pepsi’s own Creator’s League Studio, heralded by the executives who founded it as a way for the brand to increase efficiency, boost outreach, and engage with consumers in real time, was responsible for the Kendall Jenner advertisement. While the ad itself is beautifully shot, produced, scored, and edited, one can’t help but feel when viewing it that there really should have been somebody independent of the brand in the room during the planning stages, if only to say “no.”
It’s very easy to underestimate the value of an outside perspective in making the decision to engage in politically minded marketing, and easy to undervalue the labor of a professional creative. Fresh eyes are key to avoiding mistakes, and a removed perspective is invaluable in determining how consumers will perceive a design or marketing endeavor. When trying to participate in a fraught and complex discourse around today’s diverse array of issues, closing your brand off from different perspectives, building walls as it were, can only serve to undermine that objective. The greatest chance for real impact is also the strongest tool for social progress: collaboration.