Brands & Social Commentary

Brands & Social Commentary

When is publicity bad for a brand?

Despite the old saw of their being no such thing as bad press, there is indeed such a thing, and knowing how to avoid it is increasingly paramount in today’s hot-take-driven media landscape.

But Gillette is discovering, as others have before, that taking a social commentary position has consequences. For the record, I stopped using cartridge razors back in 2013, and have only used double edged safety razors since (I use the Merkur Safety Razor and these blades), so my comments on the Gillette ad are not driven by any relationship to the company or it’s products.

Gillette is facing backlash over their ‘toxic masculinity’ ad, and that was something they could have avoided. Their parent company, Procter & Gamble, has seen their stock dip post-release. And there is a lot of chatter about switching away from Gillette products, which are a bit less than 50% of the shaving market.

So why do it? That is the question that a brand needs to answer before making a statement that can damage your market. Sometimes controversy is good – especially if you land early on the winning side. Bold statements can drive customers to you, as you show confidence and vision on an issue. This can also backfire, if you choose a position that is opposed to your customer base, or appears to be an attack on them (some analysis of the Gillette ad suggests that the tone is scolding or one of talking down to the customer).

My advice to the small business brand manager or brand decision makers is to avoid commentary on social issues at all costs. And if you feel the need, be sure to be aspirational, positive, and pick a safe topic. You won’t offend anyone by standing up for equality, but might if you choose a more fringe aspect of your issue.

The core function of business is to move a product, and make a profit. Taking social positions is not the function of a business, and has all too often caused harm. Gillette won’t be going anywhere, a 1 person shop just might.

Marketing 24/7

Marketing 24/7

Every small business engages in marketing, it seems like many don’t know it.

Marketing is easy, and if you have your own company, you are doing it 24/7, whether you know it or not. For anyone with their name on their vehicle, you are marketing when you cut that slow driver off in rush hour traffic. You are marketing when you get bounced from a bar in your company t-shirt. You market when you litter, are rude, don’t hold the door, and every time you do anything that is not acceptable in polite society. This is the trick – you have to be aware of your actions, especially when you are, in any way, representing your company.

And you are always representing your company! Just because you don’t have a sign on the vehicle, or a logo on a shirt, you are your company in every interaction you have, both on and off line. Your whole public persona is your brand, and you market that brand daily. It is important that you, and I, think about that when we see a post that supports the other side of a passionate belief – from religion to politics to baseball. Our responses will be tied to us as long as there is an internet to find these things. As we are finding out on a daily basis.

I decided to update this post in the wake of the almost-daily toppling of a cultural icon for deeds in the past. I don’t see as many over comments online – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. In every encounter, we have the choice to be good or to be bad – in this case good is someone who is gracious, thoughtful…the kind of person I am sure we all want to be. Bad, however, is the troll, the person who attacks, belittles, and insults. When we, as small business owners, take that route, we become the problem, and out businesses can suffer for it.

If I am given the choice between doing business with someone who is a thoughtful poster on their social platforms (or doesn’t cut me off in traffic, or commit other social interaction sins), or their opposite number, who do you think gets the business? Obviously, the person who isn’t a jerk. That is just human nature, and something we all need to expect our potential customers will do.

So always remember, you are your company, and well be the only face some people ever see. Make sure you are a good ambassador.

updated december 15, 2018