SHOULD BRANDS TAKE A STAND FOR SOCIAL ISSUES?

In any industry, we strive to be the best, get the best feedback, attention and praise and hopefully some pretty money too. Brands want their corporate activity to reflect into being featured in the best PR campaigns lists for that year, that’s what they aim for: having the most impact because who doesn’t want global visibility and a pretty annual report?

Should brands take a stand for social issues? The answer, in my opinion, lies in the execution of their campaigns and advertisements. Not all ads are made equal, not all ads become viral sensations. Just like not all brands out there can hire a top advertising agency. Still, if one has the budget to, say Nike and Gillette, it doesn’t mean you are protected from public backlash.

The Gillette ‘We Believe’ ad was created by New York based ad agency GREY, who were founded in 1917, the same agency who made Carlsberg’s ‘Adopt a Keg’. But going back to 2019 when Gillette’s ad aired, it had both public’s love combined with tears and backlash. Reactions came from tv and film personalities like Jessica Chastain, who lauded the ad for ‘’this reminder of the beauty of men’’ on Twitter, whilst other users tweeted that the ad brought tears in their eyes, and called the ad fantastic.

The ad, at the time when NPR wrote their article, had amassed over 14m views, now (in 2021 when this blog was in its writing process) has over 37m views. Gillette and Grey thought they nailed it. They researched widely prior to getting the ad done; they had an amazing concept/idea calling out toxic masculinity and behaviors but it fell short with a lot of us. Why?

Pavel Danilyuk/PEXELS.COM

After watching the ad several times, came to the conclusion that the backlash is largely due to the poor execution of the ad and Alan Abitbol (who is a Comms Assistant Professor at University of Dayton) had the same point of view, adding his own primary research into the matter, quoted by Inc., stated: ’’The problem, in short, is that razors never make an appearance. Viewers might be questioning the company’s motives because the ad doesn’t directly tie the cause to what the brand is known for: shaving and grooming. In a study I conducted about how consumers perceive messages of female empowerment, showcasing the product–and tying the product to the message–seemed to resonate best”, yet Wired argued that most of the ad reactions were mostly positive as a lot of ‘’media and ad experts(..) agreed the commercial was clever and as emotionally moving as an ad can really ever hope to be’’.

Yes, brands should take a stand for social issues, but it is more important to choose an issue relevant to the brand and to mesh the issue into solutions, otherwise what point are they going to make? Ads should be made to help change public’s perceptions on a particular issue and offer solutions to truly have a long-lasting effect. Like Alan pointed out, a product tied-in with the social issue would have been better suited for the brand.

I want to think that sustainability is on Gillette’s board as an urgent matter because users threw their razors in the toilet to protest their ad, we can agree that these aren’t flushable items, some other users threw their razors in the trash. Safety razors have plastic components and a plastic packaging which need to be redone in a more sustainable way.

REFERENCES:

Dreyfuss, E., 2019. Gillette’s Ad Proves the Definition of a Good Man Has Changed. Wired. Viewed [11/2/2021]. Available from: https://www.wired.com/story/gillette-we-believe-ad-men-backlash/

Smith, T., 2019. Backlash Erupts After Gillette Launches A New #MeToo-Inspired Ad Campaign. NPR.org. Viewed [11/2/2021]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/2019/01/17/685976624/backlash-erupts-after-gillette-launches-a-new-metoo-inspired-ad-campaign?t=1635850768268

Stillman, J., 2019. Yes, Consumers Want Brands to Take a Stand, but That Gillette Ad Got the Execution Wrong. Inc.com. Viewed [11/2/2021]. Available from: https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/yes-consumers-want-brands-to-take-a-stand-but-that-gillette-ad-got-execution-wrong.html

How dirty is your closet?

I decided to take the ‘’How dirty is your closet’’ quiz created by ThredUP, world’s largest online consignment and thrift store, not knowing what to expect. My result was ‘’You are a Green Queen’’ which I totally am! The only think missing from the picture was a crown icon, the least they could do. Do I really have to crown myself?

But in all seriousness, do we know how dirty our closets are? Do we know who made our clothes, for example, in what conditions, wages workers had? We have seen Boohoo who was dropped by its partners Next, Asos, Zalado after allegations of unsafe conditions and low pay came to light.  ‘’Financial Times found that labor exploitation in Leicester factories was rife, describing it as being like a “country within a country”(Forbes, 2020).

We don’t know how far spread modern slavery and forced labour really are. Boohoo is probably just the tip of the iceberg that the pandemic pulled to the surface and social media spread it like fire. Will youngsters change their buying habits? From what I see in the Public Relations and Communications Management classes, I’d say that yes, they are and will. As far as Boohoo is concerned, they face an investigation on the allegations so I hope justice to be served soon.

Forced labour is a topic that People Tree’s CEO and founder Safia Minney didn’t shy away from. She’s created a vimeo account and filmed several videos on different topics which one couldn’t believe we still have to confront in 2020. Bonded labour, child labour, human trafficking, sexual harassment and intimidation are topics for other videos on her account.

These are some of the things that made me even more sensible to the environmental impact of my closet and since I don’t want my clothes to impact the rivers and oceans, I’ve found Coral Ball and Guppy Friend through stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray. These washing bags help with catching fibers and microplastics so that laundry will indeed be clean.

How dirty is your closet? Have you gotten your result? Let me know in the comments below, looking forward to building on the conversation because we learn from one another. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t a Green King or Queen but do something everyday that will help the environment.

References:

Andrew Busby, 2020, As Slavery Allegations Continue To Surround Boohoo, Why Fast Fashion Will Never Be The Same Again, Viewed on [12/9/2020], Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewbusby/2020/07/07/as-slavery-allegations-continue-to-surround-boohoo-why-the-days-of-the-5-dress-are-well-and-truly-over/?sh=7150e91759e0

Babipur, 2020, The Cora Ball, Viewed on [12/9/2020], Available from:  https://www.babipur.co.uk/the-cora-ball.html

Guppyfriend, 2020, Guppyfriend washing bag, Viewed on [12/9/2020], Available from: https://en.guppyfriend.com/

Safia Minney, 2020, Forced labour, Viewed on 12/9/2020, Available from: https://vimeo.com/safiaminney

Fashion rambles on sustainability

‘’Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. What’s more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. And washing some types of clothes sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean’’ (Weforum, 2020). Here are my fashion rambles.

Something needs to be changed at a global level, we need better laws for the environment immediately but big companies seem to be stuck in their own world, companies like H&M, but I think manufacturers are happy nonetheless. Good for their business, yes, but the masses of plastics, even car tires and fishing nets floating in our oceans, the clothes that end up in landfill annually are actually bad news, the kind of bad news big companies don’t look at.

The fashion industry can drive change fast if they choose to, they referring to Zara, Asos, H&M. ‘’In total, up to 85% of textiles go into landfills each year. That’s enough to fill the Sydney harbor annually.’’(op.cit.), and ‘’In Europe, fashion companies went from an average offering of two collections per year in 2000 to five in 2011.’’ So it seems we tend to get bored of what we wear too quickly for the environment to keep up.

Image credit: Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels.

One reason for companies not to invest in sustainable supply chains and processes is simple: it costs more money. It does have a long-term advantage though that probably gets dismissed. The revenues they get from five collections a year must be too nice to even risk. Worse, greenwashing is a growing trend. I had a look at greenwashing in Year 1 for a report, where I researched Simple Skincare brand. Greenwashing in skincare was more evident to me than in fashion until I read from several sources that H&M’s Conscious Collection isn’t so conscious.

Bravery is needed to ‘’the ‘fast’ element of their approach’’ (Well Made Clothes, 2019). Who knows how long it will take them to realized that YES, you can be sustainable and make beautiful clothes in superb prints, patterns, sizes and colors. If you want to. That is one thing I noticed in most sustainable brands, the lack of prints, patterns and colors. They need to get playful for sure. It’s probably a reason why it doesn’t appeal to customers along with the price tag. It does cost to dress sustainably, but so is having a dirty closet which leaks polyester into rivers and oceans.

Are lawmakers going to wait for brands worldwide to get brave? Or are they going to take notice when plastic will be found in our drinking water? We’ve seen fashion pioneers like People Tree making way for other companies to create sustainable companies, with ethical processes and offering fair wages to their suppliers.

I love everything about them, even more that they use dyes which are ‘’ low impact dyes, free from harmful azo chemicals which are frequently used in clothing manufacture’’(Our Story,2020) and you can see how every order makes an immense impact on communities in Bangladesh, whom People Tree helped them increase orders, livelihood, improve communications skills and more (People Tree Makers, 2020).  Their way of working should make all of us look beyond the price tag. For someone, it may seem expensive, to me a handmade piece that proves someone has a job, is paid and lives decently, somewhere in Bangladesh.

This country’s garment industry has been deeply affected by the pandemic, after retailers cancelled ‘’billion dollars’ worth of orders – including many that have already been completed’’ (Arun Devnath, Bloomberg) which ‘’affected over 4 million garment workers without a livelihood overnight in Bangladesh alone’’, retailers like Topshop, Kendall+Kylie, Primark, H&M, (full list in references).

One way to go about is boycotting them, I stopped buying my clothes from malls altogether. The quality from Bershka wouldn’t rise at the level of People Tree or Thought, or any other sustainable brand. I washed a t-shirt from Bershka by hand after buying it moons ago, (it had a giraffe illustration on it decorated with silver), and deformed completely. The brand received ‘’Not good enough’’ rating on GoodOnYou website. If you want to see how well your favorite brands do, it would be a good idea to see what rating they have by visiting their website or downloading the mobile app. Knowledge is power, after all. Ladies, let’s get information.

References

Daria Shevtsova, n.d., Photography of a woman holding green leaves, Viewed on [12/10/2020], Available from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-a-woman-holding-green-leaves-1071162/

Good on You, n.d., Bershka, Viewed on [12/10/2020], Available from: https://directory.goodonyou.eco/brand/bershka

Morgan McFall-Johnsen, 2020, These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is, Viewed on 12/9/2020, Available from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution/#:~:text=Fashion%20production%20makes%20up%2010,of%20plastic%20into%20the%20ocean

People Tree, n.d., Kumudini, Viewed on [12/10/2020], Available from: https://www.peopletree.co.uk/about-us/who-makes-our-products/kumudini

People Tree, n.d., Our Environmental Responsibility, Viewed on [12/10/2020], Available from: https://www.peopletree.co.uk/about-us

Venetianlamanna, 2020, The billionaires refusing to #PayUp, Viewed on [12/10/2020], Available from: https://www.instagram.com/p/CBydYspgxxw/?igshid=1naybwnzw3yi6

Well made clothes, 2019, HM’s New Conscious Collection Is Greenwashing 101, Viewed on [12/10/2020], Available from: https://wellmadeclothes.com/articles/HMConsciousCollectionIsGreenwashing101/