In today’s consumer culture driven world – especially here in the United States, brands are starting to become a required participant, if not leader, of conversations about social change. It’ s part of a macro trend related to empowered consumerism and the shifting balance of power between civil society, government and corporations. Specifically, government is becoming less and less the dominant force behind social change as civil society begins using their economic influence to encourage corporations (who rely on them to sustain their business) to use the power of their global marketing reach to make a difference.
The challenge for corporations (and brands in particular) is finding that social issue or cause that is relevant and credible and participating in a meaningful way. This has actually become its own industry – but that’s a conversation for another day.
I have observed, in my study of consumer culture, the burden of the backlash for many of these corporations and brands. On the one hand, you see a lot of big players who try to do the right thing but then get dinged for “creating the problem” in the first place. It’s a “between a rock and a hard place” situation for many of these brands. Coca- Cola is one example of a company / brand in the hot seat, which I blogged about when they launched their campaign to help combat the growing obesity problem.
Today’s example, however, comes from some work I am dong with a global panel of Cultural Creatives. When asked about brands they have affinity for, one participant in the dialogue talked about her “love / hate” relationship with the Dove Real Beauty campaign, and their latest Real Beauty Sketches (see below)
The issue is that, while many people find fault with the fact that none of the women are “traditionally” unattractive and they are mostly Caucasian, the work still sparks a conversation – and it’s the social conversation that is most important. In this case, the dialogue is about how our perceptions of our own physical beauty are often a reflection of unnecessary insecurities put upon us by “others” as a result of media or other “smoke and mirrors” influences – and that these detrimental self perceptions can have a negative impact on how we interact with the world.
So, kudos to Dove and any other brand that takes a risk by starting a controversial conversation, because culture only changes when we test our boundaries encourage people to react. A little bit of context shift goes a long way.