Corporate responsibility and social marketing are not new. But as we kick off 2019, we see brands position themselves right alongside social and community issues – which are often politically charged and highly controversial.

Case in point, the latest ad offering from Gillette takes a firm stance on toxic masculinity, empowering men to stand up to their ‘buddies’, stamp out bad behaviour and set an example for the next generation. The reception, albeit mixed, has elevated the discussion of brands advocating social issues within our agency.

Brands are becoming more socially responsible than ever before, with many recognising the power they have to inspire, create connections and drive important conversations – something that as marketers, we highlight during our brand strategy sessions: Authenticity is key.

Brands have an opportunity to align with social causes in new ways and connect to even wider audiences, in new ways that were not possible in the past – by building community and driving the viral conversation on and offline.

In a move to become more human and socially connected, brands are becoming social advocates, tackling everything from sexual health and menopause to hair loss.

That said, is market share reason enough to determine whether a brand can be considered an authority on a particular social issue? Does Gillette, who claim to be the ‘leading marketer to men’ have the right to lead the modern manhood conversation?

Looking back on the social success of other brands such as Always’ #likeagirl campaign, Dove’s #realbeauty movement and Nike’s ‘What are girls made of?’ #believeinmore last year, the unfolding backlash against Gillette’s ‘The best a man can get’ campaign is interesting to witness. It didn’t take long for the hashtag #BoycottGillette to start on Twitter. The TV spot has amassed over 65 million views (and counting) with discordant comments flooding in #notallmen.

Is Gillette (or the next bold brand) prepared to risk losing a large proportion of its customer base who don’t align with their position? Perhaps.

While this campaign didn’t resonate with everyone, it is appealing to Millennials and Gen Y in particular, an opportunity for any brands targeting these valuable key segments. In fact, research showed overwhelming support for the Gillette spot from this audience, with the majority noting that it would drive their purchases of the company’s products in the future. This social message truly connected with Millennials, who agreed that the brand ‘shared their values’.

It was interesting to hear that as part of the campaign Gillette also committed $3 million in funding to non-profits making an impact in this space – does that give them credibility, or is it just opportunistic? Either way, this well-researched, now viral campaign is making waves and sparking heated debate worldwide.

Perhaps the point of the ad has been missed by many, but is fuelling important social conversations the true measure of success here?

Rather than expecting to change community behaviour and values immediately, we know that behaviour change follows a series of steps. From pre-contemplation to contemplation, preparation through to action – these things take time and brands can be the catalyst for social change.

It does take some bravery on a brand’s behalf (and a fair amount of trust in your PR and creative teams!) to be this bold on divisive issues. The feedback may not always be positive, but leading brands are taking a stand in order to drive meaningful community conversations.

Procter & Gamble says it won’t air its controversial new Gillette ad during the Super Bowl. I wonder how many more controversial socially charged ads we will (or won’t!) see in 2019. Watch this space.

We work with businesses big and small to create brands that not only look great but tell engaging stories that are relevant to customers. If you need help with your brand – give us a call, we’d love to help.

The Brand Pool is a creative agency based in Newcastle.