You must have heard about advertising or branding companies that meticulously cook up those beautifully scripted ads we love, off the steaming brains of copywriters and damage control experts and ratified by brand executives.
While It’s equally possible that you have not heard of advertising companies, you must have seen the AMC TV Show, 'Mad Men.'
“Mad Men” was the 70’s colloquialism for Advertising Executives in corporate America due to their radical ways of idea generation. They were also easily discernible in crowded rooms for their predictable, yet, classy fashion sense that more often than not include suspenders and hats.
They ran America, and helped companies like Coca-Cola soar to unprecedented heights while their major competition saw, Pepsi mostly played catch-up till it also discovered the key to brand success – milking the marketability of superstar athletes for allure and mainstream appeal, in what began as a niche crowd before becoming a whole gold mine.
In Nigeria, asides the mainstream employers of labour through foreign capitalist ideas, the 70's also saw the rise of accounting firms, investment arms and Law firms. Branding and Advertising, while bubbling under before then, became mainstream in the 80’s - in the thick of military rule.
But in both the western and Nigerian markets, one thing has been certain over the past 35 years, ads are a carefully conceived, planned and executed process that then get meticulously vetted by damage control experts – they are campaigns and in this world of woke judgements, and social justice, the microscope has increased in scope and capability to rule out any bad publicity for any company, largely based on market share and consumer base.
A simple boycott will do significant harm – look no further than the boycott of Snapchat, heralded by celebrities, Rihanna and Kylie Jenner. Snapchat has still not recovered, either in patronage or virality. Thus, companies try to avoid any stench of negativity by handing over the reins of control on ads to branding and advertising companies.
Recently, centurion-company Gillette, owned by Procter and Gamble, a legacy multi-billion dollar company put up an ad that was meant to be a run-up to the NFL Super Bowl - scheduled to be held in three weeks - under its 30-year trademark slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get.”
According to Vox, the ad was created by the New York-based ad agency, Grey and is called “We Believe.”
The idea was meant to trigger men into doing better amidst the conversations of sexual harassment, condoning bullying, and female derogation against the backdrop of toxic masculinity which inspired the #MeToo and #TimesUp. The idea was probably meant to contribute a quota to the changing belief system and standard for men.
Since it dropped, the ad has caused a stir across modern conversations and even inspired threats of a boycott for popular figures like Journalist, Piers Morgan. It riled up men; men in turn riled up feminists; and them some feminists supported men’s cause while other men supported and hailed Gillette in what was a rotunda of political madness and ad hominem.
In all honesty, nothing was wrong with the ad
The modern world belongs to women, and you either join in, or get kicked off the wagon. Asides that, the ad only pointed out the truth about what wrongful things men have internalized and normalized. These things have also become cancerous to human relation and some of them planted seeds of entitlement and sexual harassment against women under the nonsensical quip, "boys will be boys."
Do men need to do better? YES! It just seems like men are only crying wolf because it’s the first mainstream ad against toxic masculinity, by a brand as huge as Gillette and sadly, men are replying with toxic masculinity-ridden retorts, making the ad near-prophetic for masculine damnation.
Let's pause, remember and rewind…
A few months ago, Maggi dropped an ad that was meant to portray a woman as ‘super’ – for lack of a better diction. The main character was seen killing everything; from office work, to social media representation and ‘her role’ as a mother, who takes care of her family – all in one day.
Sadly, not everyone saw the perspective. Nigerian feminists ripped the ad on the platter of bigotry while wielding a Valyrian steel sword, with social justice standing guard. They felt the ad wrongly portrayed a modern woman and sought to continue the derogation upon women, conscripting them to kitchen duties while men have the liberty of doing nothing. They had a point, but they missed the ad’s point – they’re not its target market.
Then there as also this advert;
Skip a little further back…
You might remember the Pepsi ad released in 2017, featuring the model, Kendall Jenner and soundtracked by Skip Marley’s beautiful song, ‘Lions.’
On the one part, the ad could be seen as a charge for inclusion in the fight against racism and bigotry we all face as a race. On the other part, the ad seemed an insensitivity against black struggle; belittling it with the reduction to impression on inclusion and simple activism as a way to stop things like police brutality – at least according to black people.
Just like this Gillette scenario, it caused a madness and rustled feathers while stirring opinions on both sides of the ad’s divide. Unlike Gillette standing firm, Pepsi budged and had to apologize, taking down the ad, but the ad was already out there.
On these three ads, critics fail to understand one thing; those reactions were expected – the apologies (if any) or decision to ‘take it down’ are a part of a well-hatched plot for publicity by brands.
While consumer-based companies, requiring a market share avoid bad publicity and the ire of social justice advocates, risking a boycott, advertising people will tell you that there’s nothing like bad publicity.
Unless it's inherently bad and not perception-based, they believe you can spin anything and publicity is only bad to the extent of how well you can spin it.
In this modern world and in the case of controversial ads, there’s nothing like a ‘good ad,’ there’s only a ‘successful ad.’ But first; why do companies create ads?
Ads are created to garner brand awareness for new or existing products and/or services. These companies have annual large ad-budgets that they need to spend.
In this current clime of saturated markets for certain types of products and a lot of competitors, the only thing – asides constantly evolving products and services – that consumer-based companies need is awareness for their brands.
Considering the current clime of social media and the power of viral content, the only thing you need is damage control and a ready-made spin from the minds of modern, aware minds to take your ads away from the fringes of negativity to what the vision was, ‘success.’
By this metric, what constitutes a ‘successful ad’
Considering that these companies heavily rely on the power of social media to push their ads, the only things that matter in the wake of a released ad; discussion, reaction and popularity – for however short a time. If the ad starts conversations and people react to it, the company has subconsciously triggered something.
The truth is, considering the meticulous way multinational consumer-based companies are run, the reaction to any of these ads was the intention, it was neither a mistake, nor a flaw. These ads are carefully crafted and meticulously executed – these ads are a calculated effort.
Those apologies; those ‘it will be taken down’ and the anger and criticism are the reasons the ad was created. You cannot take something like an ad down in this internet age – it is of no consequence, thus, nothing but a pointless, political move to soothe critics and maintain status quo.
Thus, criticizing any ad is aiding its success. If the brand puts up a controversial ad, that means market analysts have told them that such ad wouldn’t hurt the market share. Everything you see in the wake of an ad was all a part of ‘the plan.’ There’s always a contingency to the contingency.
So far as the brand is out there and it is discussed significantly, it is a successful ad - at least, till proven otherwise.
Brands might be vultures, milking popular stories, but no ad is a misfire. Be guided.
However, criticisms will not be entirely pointless
First, we should note that the entire plan of triggering needed conversations is the subconscious reason these brands green-light these ads. Thus, we must note that some of these conversations they awake - though sometimes pointless and misguided - will never be pointless.
If we allowed everything pass because we understood the essence of and intentions behind these ads, we do a greater damage to society. Thus, it is better to let the companies win with our conversations, while we equally win by always discussing them - everybody wins; we exchange the wins actually.