I’m a bit fired up.
February is inevitably a month of branding analysis as ads and marketing campaigns continue to be critiqued by professionals and non-professionals alike. Personally, I liked that this year’s batch of ads has had a positive focus, whether it be Coca-Cola’s “Make It Happy” campaign, Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign, Honey Maid’s “Love” campaign, or Dove’s “Speak Beautiful” campaign. I actually gave a presentation to the agency on the topic of cyberbullying and online anonymous negativity a week or so ago because I’m so passionate about seeing positivity beat out negativity online and elsewhere.
All of this said, I was a bit frustrated reading an article by a Washington Post reporter recently positing that Dove’s “Speak Beautiful” campaign is actually the ugliest thing on the Internet. I can accept that the author is entitled to an opinion about the tactical execution of the campaign—tweeting directly at women who make negative comments about their body image—as seeming invasive at times. My annoyance, however, stems from the author’s sweeping generalizations about branding…and unjustified remarks about the corporations that own the brands.
With regard to branding, every brand—long before Twitter came on the scene—has striven to connect emotionally with its customers. It’s not a new phenomenon, and it shouldn’t be surprising (or newsworthy). Creating emotional connections with consumers has also been shown empirically to be the most effective form of developing long-term brand attachment (more on that topic in this post), so it makes sense that we’d see a trend toward emotional connectivity in marketing.
Can creating positive emotional appeals be self-serving? Sure. But that doesn’t make it wrong, and it doesn’t mean we should discourage brands and the corporate owners that manage them from using powerful messaging platforms to disseminate positive messages. Just because a company decides to spread positivity with its brand does not mean it isn’t genuine or capable of having a positive impact on society. In fact, I suspect it’s a direct attempt to counter all of the online negativity.
Regarding corporations, the Washington Post article’s author appears to have something against companies being profitable. Profitability is core to America’s success. It’s how we employ people—people like the author. Jobs give us a way to feed our families. They enable us to pay taxes toward nation-building. Jobs give us an opportunity to contribute into society versus drawing out of society. But for jobs to exist, a company must be profitable. It’s not an evil concept. It’s a simple mathematic one. An employer can’t pay employees (or cover healthcare costs, or support communities) if it doesn’t make money. The Washington Post itself is owned by a large company that is, thankfully for the reporter, profitable!
Unfortunately, this Washington Post reporter is not the only one categorically attacking brands as inherently selfish or even outright evil in all cases. It is a bit ironic, I think, that some of these voices crying out for consumers to not be ignorant in their message consumption and connection with brands are taking such an ignorant approach as to make wholesale generalizations about the motivations and implicit truths of branding and the marketing world.
I agree with these authors on at least one point: We SHOULD be responsible consumers of messages, especially as mass marketing fades away as an effective tactic and more personalized 1:1 marketing appeals take its place. But we must be equally responsible in our judgment of the motivations of those making their appeals, as a loud outcry against positivity and complacency with a lack of understanding between consumers and brand managers will ultimately get us nowhere productive.