‘Cancel culture’. ‘Woke washing’. ‘Slacktivism’. ‘Alt-right troll.’ ‘Liberal snowflake’.
It’s no secret we live in highly politicised times, and depending on which corners of the web you frequent, you’ve probably come across these terms and others like them many times. As the culture wars wage on, contentious words and phrases like these seem to be inescapable. In fact, ‘cancel culture was Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year last year.
And you’ve probably also heard the phrase ‘Get woke, go broke’, attributed to John Ringo after he was quoted in a 2018 now-deleted (but still able to be found) online paper on brands suffering the backlash of pursuing politically correct ideology. But is there any truth to it? Do brands that make a stand pay a price for playing politics? Or do they tend to pocket a tidy profit? We thought we’d take a look.
In September 2018 when Colin Kaepernick was revealed as the face of Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign, people burned their Nike gear and vowed to never buy a Nike product again. The brand’s share price fell almost 3%. Two years later and Nike stock is at an all-time high. This isn’t to say that Nike’s current success is due to the Dream Crazy campaign, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt the brand at all long term.
Make no mistake, Pepsi’s 2017 Black-Lives-Matter-trivialising abomination with Kendall Jenner was bad. Very bad. Not good. Tone deaf, ill-conceived and disingenuous. A masterclass in what not to do. But did it send Pepsi broke? Nope.
It barely affected Pepsi’s stock price, and this month Pepsi Co also hit an all-time high. Seems like the backlash was mainly just a storm in an aluminium can.
Not long after Gillette’s infamous toxic masculinity ad ‘We Believe: The Best Men Can Be’ aired in January 2019, news outlets, subreddits and industry blogs were all bandying about a writedown figure of $8 billion and attributing it to the ad. The fact that net sales in the grooming business, which includes Gillette, had declined in 11 of the preceding 12 quarters didn’t seem to matter. Nor did the insights of the brand’s CFO who explained that the writedown was mainly due to currency fluctuations and a shrinking market. Fast forward 18 months, and P&G is currently trading a few cents off its all-time high. Hardly what you’d call ‘broke’.
These days you’d be hard-pressed to find a brand that doesn’t consider itself purpose driven. And to truly be purpose driven, you need to live your values – which means sometimes taking a side on political issues.
This isn’t to say all your advertising needs to signal just how virtuous your brand is, far from it. But when the time comes, we believe it’s much better to boldly show customers you’re on the right side of history than to sit back and do nothing. With customers now more socially conscious than ever, the brands that stand up for what’s right are best positioned to succeed in the long run.