With brands like Starbucks and Airbnb explicitly stating their political inclinations, marketers are beginning to wonder whether morality and political consciousness is the new cool.
With political culture becoming more polarised by the day, ‘marketers are facing up to new, unchartered territories and reputational risks,’ says Campaign Live. Early this year, a number of brands took a stance about Trump’s immigration ban. Although Starbucks’ protest against the immigration ban got strong mixed views, brands like Airbnb and Lyft experienced a brand boost for their strong stance on the ban.
A quick look at the statistics suggests that although people do not appreciate brands taking up political positions, the act itself doesn’t make a significant dent on the sales.
While mum is the word on politics for FMCG top dogs such as Glaxo-Smith Kline, P&G, Reckitt Benkiser, Unilever and smaller brands can afford to sprinkle a political pun here and there to spice things up.
Established brands (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Panadol, Sunsilk to name a few) have a legacy to maintain and therefore steer clear from making bold or even covert political statements in their advertising. Although they may be involved in a tug of turfs behind the curtains (Levi’s withdrawing financial support to the Boy Scouts of America in 1992 because of their stance on homosexuality and Pepsi pulling out of South Africa in 1985 subsequent to pressure from the anti-apartheid movement), advertising overall stays clear of political statements.
Even in Pakistan, multinational companies have kept their lips sealed in the wake of the Panama Gate scandal. However, thankfully brands like Espresso and Sukoon decided to win a few hearts with their tongue-in-cheek commentary of the political landscape. With Espresso posting ‘Shahbaz was burning’ and ‘There’s a new Sharif in town’ and Sukoon posting ‘Leaks are embarrassing. Get them fixed by a plumber with Sukoon’ – we are convinced that local brands just wanna have pun!
While politics is perhaps a maybe-maybe not territory, more and more brands are getting on the social commentary bandwagon. Femvertising is virality gold these days as is socially responsible advertising. Brands like Ariel with ‘#ShareTheLoad, Gul Ahmed with ‘#MeinPerfectHoon’, Leisure Club with ‘People of Pakistan’ and Interwood with their rather unapologetic espousal of the Rishta Aunty frenzy initiated by Careem are some examples of brands dabbling in the pool of social commentary and gender dynamics. The response to most of these campaigns has been positive with a generous serving of appreciation for taking a stand and voicing an opinion through an official channel.
However, most brands in Pakistan have been dragging their feet when it comes to social or political commentary in their advertising. While backlash internationally falls under the clicktivism category, the backlash in Pakistan on issues one dares not discuss is much more powerful, so that while brands in the West are moving towards expressing their viewpoints more explicitly, only a few local brands have managed to reflect political and social awareness in their ads.
Studies suggest that a company that states a political viewpoint hardly leads to a dip in sales or a dent in the brand image. Success stories like Starbucks, Airbnb prove that international audiences are accepting the political undercurrent in the world of marketing and to some extent also expect brands to tell them on which side of the argument they are. While it may take a few years, Pakistani clients too, seem to be warming up to the idea of social critique and political humour. Whether it be the politics of genders, communities or of class, we as a nation already seem to be on our way to advertising with a soul. It will just take one big brand to break the mould and the rest will follow (or rather flood in)!
Taniya Hasan is Head of Content, Digitz.