Advertising for Change: A Delicate Mix of Advertising, Brands and Controversy

The mere-exposure effect suggests that people are increasingly likely to accept something the more they encounter it. This principle remains important for advertisers who want to make their message heard, but can cause difficulties when the idea they are trying to convey is the subject of controversy. One such trend that our media and advertising team has been following closely is the increase of equal opportunity advertising as it relates to the gap in gender compensation.


Recent Advertising Efforts


Recent initiatives, such as the White House Equal Pay Pledge, have caused many companies to commit to closing the wage gap. While changing mission statements and internal operations will greatly impact the culture of such companies, exposure is also a key factor in creating wide spread global change. In the last year, there has been an increase in brands spreading the message of equal pay in their advertising. Below are examples from three brands who have produced advertising content centered on the wage gap topic:


Procter & Gamble – We See Equal



P&G was one of the original companies to start testing the waters for equal opportunity advertising. Over the past year, P&G brands have been introducing socially conscious messages for women across a range of personal care products. The company’s first attempt at talking about the wage gap came out during the spring of 2016 in an ad for Secret brand deodorant. The ad received criticism from many perspectives while also leaving viewers with the sense that the company didn’t truly understand or care about the wage gap.

More recently, P&G released its “We See Equal” campaign, unifying the messages of all its advertising (“Like a Girl” from Always and “Girls can” from CoverGirl), to address gender bias from a corporate standpoint. Through this campaign, P&G hopes to build a more meaningful connection with consumers and display a true commitment to overcoming gender inequality. 


Bianco Footwear – Women Need More


Earlier this year, Danish fashion brand Bianco released the highly-debated commercial above that went beyond the equal pay issue. Humor has always been an effective way to get one’s message across, but the tongue-in-cheek attitude behind Bianco’s “Women Need More” campaign left a sour taste in many consumer’s mouths. Specifically, the ad talks about the act of “pink taxing” causing women’s products to cost more than men’s, thus impeding women’s ability to buy shoes. The ad caused frustrations among viewers from differing perspectives claiming the ad either undermined the real issue with something trivial or evoked over-the-top propaganda with women retaliating against the patriarchy. Understanding where the line is can be a challenging task for advertisers to navigate, but ads like this one can provide insight into how to create more effective messaging down the road.


Audi – Drive Progress



Audi joined the group of brands in this year’s Super Bowl who took big risks with a socially conscious ad. Audi’s Super Bowl ad closed with the message “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work,” showing a firm message for their stance on gender bias. While the ad received some negative feedback, it also received a large outpouring of positive feedback from consumers and auto manufacturers alike. Buick was one such auto manufacturer and tweeted out: “#DriveProgress is a message we can all get behind,” showing receptiveness from a fellow industry mainstay. As criticism came in the following days, Audi responded by continuing to express its ongoing efforts and participation in the White House Equal Page Pledge.


Moving Forward


There is no doubt that other brands will continue pushing the wage gap message, as well as other controversial messages. These examples have taken a chance and seen what methods are most effective when trying to combine ethics and advertising. As messages are refined, viewer reactions will further change due to the level of interaction with the topic. This give and take relationship between culture and corporate culture is always ongoing and can require patience as larger social issues become one with the collective consciousness. 

At Ebiquity, our advertising database contains over 20 million creative executions from more than 80 countries. This allows us to have a unique perspective on all the latest advertising trends. What are your thoughts on using advertising to address controversial messages? Let us know by leaving a comment below.





By Luke Sword
About the Author:

Luke Sword is an Advertising Analyst at Ebiquity, plc

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