Apr 2019

When I first saw Gillette’s “We Believe” ad, I was quite sceptical. How is that a brand known for its razor-sharp machoness suddenly take a stand against toxic masculinity, bullying and sexual harassment? By engaging with the #MeToo movement, the company’s new advertising campaign plays on its 30-year tagline “The best a man can get”, replacing it with “The best men can be”.

The brand’s attempt to join the debate on what it means to be a modern man is laudable, but of course, one wonders about how true is Gillette to this cause. A brand which focussed on product functionality than creating a compelling brand story for years is now calling for self-examination —now attached to the dull, unavoidable and very personal daily ritual of shaving.

For this, let’s take a look at the increasingly progressive messages in marketing campaigns with a clear attempt to entice millennials — they are trying to be “woke”.

Thanks to social media and technology, information is just a click away, and people whose voices were once overlooked are able to rise through the noise. Thus, you’d actually have to go out of your way not to hear, see or read about whatever is happening in the world today. As a result of this reality, millennials are becoming interested in social causes, citing the wrongs of the past and supporting brands whose values align with their own.

Gone are the days when the brand tried to sell a product based on its attributes or the potential benefits it can offer consumers. Companies are now trying to market a product based on a brand that is positioned as visionary and as having a larger purpose in the world. Of course, the perfect example to understand a brand trying to be ‘woke’ is by taking a closer look at the Pepsi’s ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which crashed and burnt before it could even take off.


People were angered by Pepsi’s attempt at playing into the topic of protest to market the brand, without understanding the sentiment behind the protests. They took inspiration from the themes and images of the real life protest to try to sell soda. And these images and themes reflect from real-life protests, where the people involved are not high-paid supermodels but rather regular people involved in movements with real, dangerous, and sometimes life-threatening implications.

It wasn’t a surprise that the social media was in an uproar and the brand had to pull the plug on the campaign and apologize.

The millennials know the social issues that are prevalent in their society, they do not need a brand to tell them so. But millennials are curious about what their favourite brand is trying to do about it. And this is where brands slowly come in with their ‘woke’ strategy.

Nike knew they were taking a risk in their ad with Colin Kaepernick, but they were also seen as “doing the right thing” in the eyes of its target consumer. It was perhaps offensive for some, but arguably hitting all the right notes for the customer Nike was trying to reach in the first place.


Of course, it is not wrong for the brands to care about such pressing social issues. But in my opinion, using such subjects that they think the public cares about, to market a product which has nothing to do with the issue and while doing absolutely zero to create a positive impact with regard to these matters leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Apart from their poignant ad, Gillette is committing to donate $1million per year for the next three years to non-profit organisations executing programs in the United States designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal “best” and become role models for the next generation. This shows that it is imperative for a  brand to do something beyond than just trying to fit into a conversation they should not really be a part of if they aren’t doing anything of substance.


Brands that are trying to take action in tangible ways to contribute to positive social change can come across as superficial if they place too much of an emphasis on social issues in their marketing efforts. The audience will ultimately be disinterested if they feel a brand is only talking about a particular issue because they think it will sell, regardless of whether or not the brand is actually doing anything to have an impact.

In the perfect world, companies would find a way to give back by taking action to promote and contribute to positive social change, without seeking anything in return. But for now, that’s not the case. Until then, I believe companies and marketers can take a step back and question their motives, their potential for impact, and whether they should or should not play a role in talking about social issues.

Anagha Krishnakumar