Whether you loved it or hated it, you probably had an opinion on the Gillette advert launched last week. Increasingly, brands are putting their head above the parapet and taking a stand on social issues, but why?

Many brands are already drawing up ‘social good’ strategies to raise money or fight for a chosen cause. But with so much global uncertainty on political, social and economic issues, many consumers are starting to demand even more from brands.

Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,”

According to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand report, 64% of consumers worldwide are “belief-driven buyers”; they want brands to take a stand on issues that matter to them. While Nike was not the the first brand to take a stand on social issues, its recent divisive campaign featuring controversial NFL star Colin Kaepernick was hugely successful, and not just in terms of getting people talking. Days after media furore had died down Nike’s stock value soared 4% to an all-time high, and online sales shot up by 31%.

“Look before you leap”

Despite having Kaepernick on their roster since 2011, Nike and their agency Wieden+Kennedy waited two years after the kneeling protest before launching him as the face of their anti-racism campaign. In doing so they had plenty of time to make a data-driven, considered decision before doing anything (and happily, it coincided with the 30th anniversary of the brand’s slogan, “Just Do It”). However the receptiveness of consumers towards brands having a point of view on contentious issues varies greatly.

The worst ad of all time

Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi collaboration, for example, intended to make a stand, with the brand talking about “A global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey”. However, in reality the ad didn’t take a stand at all. While Kaepernick stood up for something that resonated with millions of people globally, Pepsi simply paid Jenner to appear in a scripted piece of content that was not based in any true meaning. The advert undermined genuine protest movements such as Black Lives Matter for commercial gain. And the public were not having it.

We are removing the content and halting any further rollout

Brad Jakeman, president of Global Beverage Group at PepsiCo, initially tweeted that he was “proud” of the work.

“Super proud of the @pepsico #CreatorsLeague for producing this, and to @kendall for her awesome creative partnership.https://t.co/iy2ZtIXcK8

But just 24 hours after airing its latest celebrity-driven TV campaign, Pepsi had to remove the ad in question due to a spectacularly negative social media reaction. To add insult to injury, the now deleted Tweet was captured and widely shared, highlighting the power and influence of social media platforms. As Pepsi found out, consumer opinion cannot be ignored, and brands must take steps to respond to mistakes.

Sadly, Pepsi’s great rival Coke failed to benefit from this slip-up. Their own 2018 campaign for Diet Coke –apparently an attempt to engage with ‘woke’ culture, went down almost as badly, with one commentator describing it as “Superbad, SuperAnnoying, SuperStupid.”

The power of influence isn’t limited to mass public outcry either. Celebrities are using their own platforms (and mass following) to call out brands for poor marketing. Last weekend actor Jameela Jamil took to Twitter to criticise Avon for body shaming women in its new advert.

Within five hours Avon responded, admitting fault, and agreed to remove this messaging from all future marketing materials. The power of social media means an entire campaign can now be derailed within hours of its launch.

Increasingly, consumers do respond positively to ads that engage intelligently with real-world issues. Despite the apparent risks, Yoplait, P&G and Stella Artois have, like Nike, taken a bold stance in their campaigns. Consumers, it seems, don’t mind companies trying to associate their brand with a positive social message. Just don’t do it badly.