Nike. Gillette. They are the last two big examples of how companies have stood for social causes that seem to have polarized the public. When a company takes a stand for something, in an ad campaign like the most recent The Best A Man Can Get ad for example, it risks alienating a certain demographic but also takes the risk to strike a chord with those who prefer to support companies that share the same values they do.

“We live in a world where brands think they need ‘purpose’,” says Dan Cullen-Shute, chief executive and co-founder of independent advertising agency Creature London. “Research continually shows that millennials want brands that do and mean something.” He is, however, not completely on board with the stance Gillette has taken. “It is possible to think #MeToo is incredibly important and support a world in which men are more respectful and kind, but at the same time not believe it’s really Gillette’s space to talk about it.” If it’s not Gillette’s space to do it, though, why not?

Advertising is a powerful medium that helps influence how we see the world and portrays the images of what is acceptable, desirable and reflective of our current lives. Some companies choose to represent society as it is so this Gillette ad is a representation of what the current realities are for men. Remember when Cheerios had a same-sex couple in their ad campaign a few years ago – which also polarized the public. However, aren’t they simply reflecting the realities of everyday families who are part of their customer demographic?

In less than a week, the new Gillette commercial received more than 20 million views on YouTube. They have also been endless discussions about the ad on social media and from media outlets. As with all conversations, there are all opinions from all sides. So while some think the ad is an attack on men while and others believe it is an honourable stand with the #MeToo movement; it is simply a representation of the realities of our society. Then others believe it is a blatant opportunity to simply sell more razors and shaving products.

For any organization that takes the risk to start a polarizing ad campaign like this one, it is important that they keep that social cause in mind across all aspects of the organization. While a viral ad campaign can help build (or break – remember Pepsi?) a company’s reputation, it is not the be-all-and-end-all of what the company should stand for. They need to commit to that cause internally by allowing employees to participate in programs that reflect that cause; they need to continually discuss their commitment to the cause with media and by their executives; they need to create policies in the organization that prevent discrimination, harassment and other such situations that align with their cause. The ad campaign cannot be their only way to stand for the cause because it would essentially only be a PR stunt that will eventually reflect poorly on the organization.

An ad campaign is a great start to shout a cause from the rooftops, but it is simply Cause Marketing. When an organization makes it a cause they truly believe in at all levels of the organization, then it is part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Once companies have robust CSR practices, they can also charge a premium for their products because customers are willing to pay more for a product that stands for something. According to Clutch’s 2019 PR and Corporate Social Responsibility Survey, less than half of people (44%) say price is among the most important attributes of a company.

In the same survey, seventy-one percent (71%) of people think it’s important for businesses to take a stance on social movements. Younger generations consider a company’s values more than older generations before making a purchase. With the increasing buying power from millennials and younger demographics, it will be especially important for companies take a stance on social movements and, as such, they need to now determine which issues are relevant to their brand, how they can speak about those social issues and when they should speak. Communications is key.