Nike and Gillette grabbed the lion’s share of the conversation around socially aware advertising, possibly because they have garnered the most backlash. So let’s have a look at how the negative responses to these campaigns compare.

Re-watch these and then we’ll get into it.

So… two adverts launched online, marking 30 year anniversaries, featuring a narrator exhorting the viewer to great things over a collage/montage and backed by stirring instrumentals. Their construction has lots in common. Their messages are almost linked. Nike asked us to “Believe in Something”. Gillette answered “We Believe”. The symmetry is tantalising…

Let’s Look At The Similarities

Both adverts triggered boycotts. Outraged consumers on social media proclaimed they would no longer support the brands, some destroying merchandise (they already owned). Despite these graphic demonstrations, neither brand has suffered in sales. Nike actually showed an uptick, and Gillette (which is much more recent) is holding steady. People were angry enough to publish videos of them destroying their own stuff without impacting bottom lines. Both companies likely weighed the risks, anticipated the consequences and still went for it, because the angry people aren’t the only ones buying.

“Stay in Your Lane”. Brands don’t get to voice an opinion about real life. In Nike’s case, critics argue  they’re aligning with Kaepernick’s disrespect of US Military Veterans. For Gillette, the argument is a maker of shaving products cannot comment on gender relations. This doesn’t really hold water. Brands have been influencing the cultural and political zeitgeist through their creative as long as advertising has existed. Secondly, consumers are leveraging their buying power to force brands to take a public position. They can’t “stay in their lane” even if they wanted to. Funny, then, that an ad focusing on a positive framing of manhood gets praise. It’s like arguing against preventing mass shootings through tighter gun control by commenting on how pleasant a well-oiled rifle stock smells.

Wokevertising. Some have framed the campaigns as jumping on a bandwagon. Brands cynically positioning themselves as purpose-led for profit. Additionally, these campaigns have come under more fire than their “social-commentary” peers because they have criticised where others have built up. Brands leveraging the cultural zeitgeist to their advantage is hardly revolutionary. The reactions to the campaigns mirror the criticisms of the social movements. To Gillette, the bitter response has been “not all men” and to Nike, it’s one of “don’t disrespect US military veterans”. It’s now on the respective companies to prove the band-wagon critique wrong by consistently following through on their message.

Now Let’s Check Out The Differences

It’s the Person, Not The Message. Nike sponsored Colin Kaepernick when he played. They sponsored him when he couldn’t get a contract. But the sneaker burning only started when they put him in an ad. Up until then, it seems Nike fans who disagreed with him were still ok with their fashion (Nike were, and still are, the uniform supplier to the NFL and maker of all the fan jerseys). Putting him in an ad put these fans over the edge. In Gillette’s case, there is no single person focusing the vitriol. It’s the message that has ruffled feathers, rather than the person delivering it.

Who Made It? Who Cares? Do you know who directed Dream Crazy? Do you care? Probably not. In the case of We Believe, the director Kim Gehrig is part of the controversy, because according to some darker parts of the internet (Reddit) she’s a **** **** ******* with a ********** *****.  Her body of work has a strong pro-feminist stance. Kim was an excellent choice for the piece, bringing a perspective a guy is unlikely to (or even thought to) attempt. Yet she gets doxxed. One wonders how the people (men) doing this reconcile their actions with their protest? It’s like,

Gillette Ad : “Guys can be better.”

Them: “That’s an unfair generalisation. Not all guys are dicks!”

Also Them: *Behaves like dicks.

Are You Talking To Me? Nike wants everyone to dream crazy, transcending sport, nationality or culture. It’s a message of pure, unadulterated inspiration and upliftment: to broaden your aspirations to the very limits of your imagination. Gillette’s message is more grounded, asking men to be better. The smaller audience amounts to half the world. How can people react so personally to such a generic message? These responses are testament to how successfully both campaigns touch on deeply personal issues. They cut to the heart of the viewer. They might ask something from the public, but they speak directly to the person.

A Social Watershed. Gillette is riding the #MeToo wave. They talk about a pivot in history. It’s a time their ad makes sense in. Nike’s ad is timeless. The athletes and moments may be current, but the message could just as easily sit 50 years ago (it has echoes of Apple’s Think Different) and, presumably, will be just as relevant as we enter the next century (assuming advertising still exists in 2101).

Ultimately, the key consideration is purpose. These ads fulfilled theirs. They have sparked conversations (and reactions) by signalling virtue on divisive political and social issues. The question on whether Nike and Gillette continue to live that purpose by working to make the world better is one waiting to be answered.

Only their future actions will tell.