Using Activism in Advertisement

Wondering how to bring attention to your company? A new advertising strategy seems to be gaining momentum. Certain industry giants have used advertisements to take a stance on societal issues and tensions demonstrating a political climate more open to social activism than it might seem. This Sunday, Feb. 24, Nike released a commercial for the Oscars that highlights the double standards and barriers women face in sports. Narrated by tennis player Serena Williams and featuring notable athletes such as gymnast Simone Biles, the advertisement sends viewers a message to “dream bigger” despite the constant sexism endured by female athletes. At one point, male reporters make audible commentary remarking that female athletes “need to calm down.” Though the advertisement risks angering some audiences, judging from responses to past advertisements that critique social structures, Nike clearly decided that the extra attention this commercial will bring is beneficial — the company wants to show where it stands on a legitimate social issue.

This trend of advertising activism is not limited to Nike. It may have begun when Nike released an advertisement featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, revealing its support for him despite the NFL’s stance and national backlash; however, in mid-January, Gillette released an ad targeting toxic masculinity which blew up the internet. Gillette’s ad prompted significant anger over a message that some interpreted as too pushy — too forcefully opinionated on how men should behave. People were furious that Gillette promoted a message of base moral goodness in its new commercial. How people could be angered by such an ad may be baffling to some, but it is not surprising. Gillette must have analyzed the cost benefits of releasing such a forceful and incendiary commercial. Nike’s Kaepernick ad was also heavily criticized; it was called un-American, and some reactionary consumers even burned their Nike gear (which has proven to be an ineffective boycotting technique, but go ahead). Similarly, Nike was aware that it would stir controversy, but that did not stop the company from continuing to produce social and political commentary.

Maybe there is a new wave in advertising — create ads that inspire and prompt discussion, and it will pay off financially. According to Time Magazine, Nike sales jumped 31 percent from Sunday to Tuesday over the weekend that it released its Kaepernick commercial. Companies that are large enough simply do not care since they benefit from significantly increased airtime. This new model of advertisement is representative of our national political climate; it shows that a company’s profits are not overtly harmed by opinionated marketing. If they were, shareholders would almost certainly cut them off. This is not the case, so maybe providing messages of strength, perseverance and moral good is beneficial for business. This leaves us with a hopeful conclusion: the opposition to these messages is smaller and less driven than we may have predicted.