Brand activism is on the rise… …and big name brands are getting on board, is this a new trend?

by | Nov 1, 2020 | Marketing | 0 comments

Brand activism is on the rise… …and big name brands are getting on board, is this a new trend?

I have always been a lover of activism advertising ever since I saw my first shocking ad at the tender age of 12. It was the “The Vangelis – Dumb Animals” tv commercial, https://youtu.be/7bENxfu4k28. The ad was produced in the 1982 and this will still be disturbing to some viewers. Even though this was not a brand activism ad (the term didn’t really exist back then) it did depict the superficial side of the fashion industry at that time. If you think brand activism is a new trend on the rise, I will have to burst your bubble. Over the years, brands like United Colors of Benetton have played a major role in highlighting key issues in their advertising campaigns, since the early 80’s.

In 1971, a nude and largely hairless Yves Saint Laurent posed for Jeanloup Sieff, to debut his first-ever perfume for his namesake label, “Pour Homme”. It was a subtle campaign in support of gay activism that started with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and ignited globally. YSL over the years has had some ads that were bordering on pornography in the name of art (or not). In the years to come, their campaigns played on all genders. At the height of homophobia, this ad had an underlying tone that was aimed towards the gay population.

PETA Brand activism only kicked off when celebrities started to back the cause from 2009. Some big names included Cloris Leachman, Naomi Campbell, Pamela Anderson, Jamie Bamber and many more. Prior to this, the cause targeted the public with shock campaigns like this one (done in the early 80’s.) “Holocaust On Your Plate” This campaign ended up in the German high court, and was banned.

PETA does use celebrity brands in the form of actors, actresses and models to drive campaigns such as the 2013 “All animals have the same parts” campaign. In this campaign, Pamela Anderson who was voted sexiest woman that year, was depicted as a piece of meat. The campaign highlighted the concept that humanity needs to be brought down a peg or two, and that we are all animals after all.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Brazilian branch provoked international rage with an ad about the 2009 tsunami disaster that depicted dozens of aircrafts flying towards the World Trade Center. This was a fragile period for Brazil, and the USA as they were in an international dispute. In that same year of 9/11, as well as the additional two plane crashes in New York, Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed into the Clarence Centre killing 49 people, and the infamous US Airbus A320 that landed in the Hudson river. A strong statement towards media to highlight that reporting is not always fairly done.

United Colors of Benetton is no stranger to brand activism. They have targeted health, politics and race topics since the early 80’s. Their Aids campaign from 1994 depicted a young man with his last dying breath. This campaign highlighted the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Jesus-like resemblance caused an out-cry from the Roman Catholic Church, and the public, resulting in a retraction and apology.

In 2013, Dunkin’ Donuts was slammed for running this bizarre ad for chocolate donuts, which featured a fair-skinned woman in blackface https://youtu.be/et_9A-TJUZQ. In the television commercial, the woman turns black after eating the donut, the tagline “Break every rule of deliciousness”. The ad was said to be insensitive, and slated as bizarre and racist by the Human Rights Watch. During, and leading up to 2013 there was a great deal of media attention on racism in police departments in the US and UK press.

In 2014, Unilever launched the “Sunlight Campaign”, this campaign was a call for new speeches by new, younger leaders https://youtu.be/0qeSddqo0eU. What makes this ad so controversial? Maybe it is that Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Adolf Hitler are over shadowing the real message. I don’t think they had a Jewish target audience in mind

2014 also saw Dove soap hitting back at the Victoria Secrets “Perfect body” campaign with their “Dove Real Beauty Campaign”. I love this, as it fights back at the fashion industry. The following year, the French government passed a bill decreeing that models working in the country must supply a medical certificate deeming them fit to work, in a bid to prevent the use of “excessively thin” models.

In 2016, the Luxury gym franchise, Equinox unveiled its new envelope-pushing 2016 ad campaign, “Commit to something.” This brave advertisement features model Lydia Hearst looking unapologetic while breastfeeding two babies in public while dining at an upscale restaurant. This campaign launched the same year as global demonstration ignited by the UN. It stated that breast feeding is a human right, and more media was given to this movement.

These are some of my favourite campaigns. DS also prides itself on standing up, and creating awareness around issues that need to be brought to the public eye.

We would like to hear which are your favorite brand activism campaigns.

We gladly work with companies that want to build a brand activism campaign. www.designsimplified.co.za.

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