Can Brand Activation Survive the Age of Constant Scrutiny?


More than a decade ago, “social media” broke onto the scene and, shortly thereafter, became a part of everyday life for many of us.

Of course, it’s also become an indispensable tool for modern marketers.

Unfortunately, many marketers have adopted the power of social media only to run headlong into one of its most notorious byproducts: widespread scrutiny. Companies are learning that brand activation now carries more risks than ever before.

brand activation

While it might be too early to tell if the offended follow through on boycott threats to the company, it doesn’t seem likely that Gillette’s latest brand-activation efforts will backfire in any meaningful way. The company indeed doesn’t show any signs of regret.

It’s also doubtful that the Proctor-and-Gamble-owned-company didn’t know what they were doing exactly.

Gillette needs new customers – meaning “younger” – and this ad will probably deliver them: “Among millennials and Gen Zs, 57 percent said they’d be more likely to consider purchasing Gillette products. Nearly two-thirds of Gen X men said the same.”

The company knows its market – including emerging members – and how best to speak to them through the right channels (the ad was solely for the Internet). So, while they may lose some customers, the gamble that brings them new ones is likely to pay off.

The Age “Social Scrutiny”

Though social media certainly deserves responsibility for many positive outcomes, it’s also bred greater scrutiny than ever before – especially where brands are concerned.

In a time when the mob mentality can erupt from just one ill-advised tweet, is brand activation still worth the risk?

That’s not to say that social media gave birth to backlash; it’s just that these platforms have often provided the backlash centerstage.

Consider the infamous “Why sport? You’ll live longer” commercial Nike released in 2000 during the Olympics. It depicted a woman running for her life from a chainsaw-wielding attacker. Fortunately, she’s wearing Nike’s shoes, so she’s successful.

Nonetheless, many viewers found it to be in poor taste, and Nike quickly pulled the ad. That was about the end of it.

Fast forward to 2019, and it’s unlikely Nike would have gotten away with such a modest “mea culpa.”

DiGiorno Learns About Social Backlash

One of the best examples of a brand invoking social-media-scrutiny was back in 2014 when DiGiorno tried using a trending hashtag to market their brand. The problem is that the #WhyIStayed hashtag was meant to bring awareness to the plight of domestic abuse survivors, not frozen pizzas.

The backlash was swift and, to be fair, so was DiGiorno’s generally well-received response.

brand activation

Nonetheless, the company could have avoided the entire debacle if their social-media manager had first considered their company’s “marketing basics” (e.g., target audience, channels of distribution, creative,
etc.).

A simple check to see what the hashtag was referring to wouldn’t have hurt, either. But, the problem would have never occurred if the person behind the Twitter account had also thought about their brand-specific first (i.e., “Is this tweet even going to reach our target market?”).

Gillette Courts Controversy but May Be Better Off for It

On the other end of the spectrum, Gillette recently faced a great deal of backlash for its “We Believe” ad.

While it might be too early to tell if the offended follow through on boycott threats to the company, it doesn’t seem likely that Gillette’s latest brand-activation efforts will backfire in any meaningful way. The company indeed doesn’t show any signs of regret.

It’s also doubtful that the Proctor-and-Gamble-owned-company didn’t know what they were doing exactly.

Gillette needs new customers – meaning “younger” – and this ad will probably deliver them: “Among millennials and Gen Zs, 57 percent said they’d be more likely to consider purchasing Gillette products. Nearly two-thirds of Gen X men said the same.”

The company knows its market – including emerging members – and how best to speak to them through the right channels (the ad was solely for the Internet). So, while they may lose some customers, the gamble that brings them new ones is likely to pay off.

Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Constant Scrutiny

Brand activation still has just as much – if not more – potential for companies despite social media’s risks.

It’s just that companies need to be much more careful about how they go about it.

This is why partnering with agencies who understand this strategy has become essential. Only after a company has become clear about its brand, can it remain true to it. That kind of authenticity is vital for successful brand activation and makes the company bulletproof to any scrutiny it might receive.

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Amie Stanley

CEO, Founder at E29 Marketing
Amie Stanley founded E29, a Strategic Marketing Agency, in 2017 after co-owning and managing several women-owned agencies.

Her 25+ year career has been defined by building brands and breaking through the barriers for women in business. At E29, Amie assembled a seasoned team of marketing specialists that are focused on elevating the agency experience.
Amie Stanley