Commercials are some of the most pervasive pieces of media in the world, entrenched in every television show, YouTube video or website. Even though commercials may be a nuisance, in recent years, specific companies have shown a trend of selling something more than just their products in their ads.
Some ads have gone viral beyond their intended audiences for the social and political controversies they present. Although these companies may take distinct stances to create a positive reputation for themselves, the messages the ads portray are important especially due to the invasiveness advertisements.
For example, the razor company Gillette released a commercial in early January of this year that received mixed reviews. The company tested its slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get,” against recent national conversations on toxic masculinity. Gillette’s point was to question whether excusing men for inappropriate behaviors because of their sex—such as sexual harassment and meaningless violence—is the “best a man can get.”
The ad received both praise, largely from women, and criticism, primarily from conservatives, according to The Washington Post.
Yes, perhaps Gillette’s intention was to gain respect from a female audience, but the ad also told a genuine story, addressed a larger social issue in our country and started conversations. It’s additionally powerful to see such a prominent company question its own targeted demographic market.
Furthermore, even though this year’s Super Bowl did not showcase thought-provoking ad spots, the biggest sporting event of the year has shown them in the past.
For example, in 2015, the feminine hygiene product company Always released the “Like a Girl” commercial which displayed the stark contrast between young females’ thoughts on girlhood before and after puberty. Additionally, the 2017 Super Bowl aired a Budweiser commercial that showed the importance of immigrants and the struggles they face via the success of Adolphus Busch—the creator of the beer—despite harassment he received for being a German man in America.
While the commercials themselves instill powerful social and political messages, the fact that a beer company comments on how immigrants are treated may seem a bit tone-deaf. For The Washington Post, historian Kyle Williams explained the reasoning behind the influx of social and political ads in recent years.
“Brands and businesses have discovered that in 2019, laying claim to social responsibility has become an essential part of what it means to do business—and to maximize profits,” Williams wrote. “Corporate attempts to appear socially responsible are nothing new. Corporate leaders have long embraced the trappings of social leadership, conceiving a role for themselves and their institutions as trustees of social progress.”
Internationally as well, a United Kingdom supermarket named Iceland Foods created an ad with Greenpeace, claiming they would not use palm oil in their products to help protect the extinction of orangutans as a result of deforestation. The ad was banned because British networks forbid political ads, but it still went viral and picked up steam across media outlets, according to BBC.
Despite this ad’s failure to air in its intended market, the social cause proliferated. Maybe Iceland Foods saw some more business, but the importance lies in the messages that these businesses spread. Not only did Iceland’s ad cover an important topic, but its lack of airtime caused uproar because they were not allowed to question their audience on important social issues.
While it’s important to realize that companies may have selfish tendencies in mind when creating these ads, having such large franchises implant these messages into the minds of its viewers is vital.
Due to the invasiveness of ads, it’s incredibly smart for companies to pair advertising with social and political issues. Like a small mention of Tide detergent in a “sponsored by” segment may influence audiences to turn to a specific product in the grocery store, a powerful corporate company taking a risk to make an important political statement may cause its viewers to do the same.