Using A Social Cause: Profit or Profiteering

Advertising justifies its existence when used in the public interest-it is much too powerful a tool to use solely for commercial purposes.” – Howard Gossage

One of the hottest trend in advertising is using social cause. Marketers make poignant statements while at the same time build associations and sell junk.

Majority of the people would say that companies should address social issues but the attempt should be genuine i.e. to align causes to their strategy and not just using it for one time marketing.

Here is an example of a campaign that I am talking about:- NO MORE BLACK TARGETS. The video starts with the fact that last year 263 black men have been killed by guns, of whom 69% were non-violent and unarmed. What if unconscious bias is deadly?

Cool! At-least somebody is using creativity for something good.

But it’s a different story if someone uses the hard work of others and just overwrite it with its own purpose. One of the similar cases was found in the recent extremely stereotypical Pepsi ad which allegedly appropriated the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement. (BLM is an international movement that campaigns against violence and racism against black people and holds protests police brutality and racial discrimination both online & offline). It was criticized by a lot. After the final comment by Martin Luther King Junior’s daughter, Bernice King, Pepsi pulled out the ad.

 If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi” – Bernice King

They also issued and apology statement:

Pepsi was trying to project a global a message of unity, peace and understanding,Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize.

We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.

Talking about paying for the sins of others, coke also lost financially as its stock prices fell due to the incident. Here is the ad and let’s name it, “BLUE is everywhere and BLUE is a solution.”

Youth from different backgrounds & culture came together and celebrate in the end, all because of Pepsi. Many complained that it mocks the BLM which began after so many deaths at the hands of police by imposing a solution of peace offering (i.e. Pepsi) from the victims and not by the police. Some have also interpreted that the company was trying to compare the heroic act of Ieshia Evans, who stood firmly in front of police (in Indiana last year during a BLM protest) by showing that the situation could be handled in a different way.

Forcing their way into social conversations to which they are not invited to is nothing new for companies. But it is necessary to understand the pulse of the audience linked. It’s hard to believe how such a big company missed on doing a basic market research or may have done it wrong. And also continuously slamming ‘Pepsi Can’ in the face while talking about such a serious issue. It was beyond the limit people could handle. It was preachy till the end.


Is it my hindsight bias talking?

Life is tough and sure people suffers because of  the ills of others. But today’s youth is a better breed who instead of cribbing, they keep trying and work hard. Whether it’s a musician, photographer or others, all are dedicated toward the things they believe in. But sometimes it doesn’t workout and we kinda get stuck in between. Don’t give in to the darkness. Clear your head and get a fresh perspective. Now the pain has taught you humility and you are ready to meet others who have gone through the same thing. Now everybody understand others, respect others and have come together – dancers, musicians and working in harmony.

Try to remember a time when you have a strong feeling of something(could be love or dealing with hard times) and you kept listening to a same music or watching a same painting or going to a church or did whatever was your thing in between. That music or painting now stores those precious feelings and memories; and whenever you listen to it you remember. You remember how hard you worked and how passionately you followed your dream. And that music now becomes the most important part of your life which helps you kept going in the future. Is that what Pepsi was trying to do?


Now watch the video again.

What if Pepsi just wanted to do that but comes out wrong. I think they did a lot of things right. They choose Skip Marley‘s ‘Lions’ song which goes hand-in-hand with the message and movement. He said:

“Young people are the future of the world. It’s a new generation, a new start. We can do it better. We’re growing; as people, we’re supposed to grow, we’re supposed to learn, and the next generation grows and learns, you know? It’s our time now.”

They didn’t violate any of the 13 Principles of the movement and didn’t show anyone in the bad light. A young successful person taking a break for greater good. The ad does promote strength and togetherness. It did made a lot of people aware about the cause.

But instead of choosing the ‘Pepsi logo’ they chose ‘Pepsi Can’ as symbol to reflect those feelings of passion. It changed the purpose of the campaign because people see logo as a person that stands for something good and ‘Can’ as a product to be sold. It changed the campaign into a mere advertisement to sell. In the end ‘Pepsi Can’ became a symbol which reminded people the main purpose of the campaign – ‘Selling Soda’.

The process should be to capture the pulse of a movement and feelings in campaign and store it in logo. And then wait. Let people come on their own to consume it and experience it. And later on, taste will become the experience and reflect those feelings.

In short, while dealing with strong feelings or movements, the way should be to sponsor it instead of brainwashing people to buy products. In this case brand association would be enough and important instead of sales advertisement.


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