Content Campaigns That Made Us Think

Passion Digital Passion Digital 31/03/2022 7 minutes

Call it nostalgia – or maybe we’re just soppy marketers – but we’ve been thinking about some recent content campaigns that touched our hearts and our minds.  

In this ripe year of 2022, brands have a role to play in what they say about society and the message they send to the world. As PR expert Mark Borkowski says: “It is no longer enough for brands to simply sell a product, customers are demanding that they have a purpose – that they stand for something.”

Faith, our Insight & Strategy Executive and Seetal, one of our Content Managers have taken a look at some content campaigns from the last few years. These are campaigns you’ll probably recognise; decisions and moves from big league players such as Victoria’s Secret, Gillette and Fenty Beauty. Brands that, if any do, have a right to ‘show up’ when the time comes. But did they pull it off when it was their time? Let’s take a trip down memory lane… 

Victoria’s Secret’s New Model, 2022 

The luxury lingerie brand is perhaps most known for hosting the fashion event of the year, where the Victoria’s Secret Angels strut the runway displaying the latest lacey collection in their own wings. Almost anyone who’s anyone has been a VS Angel at some point in their career, with names like Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Stephanie Seymour on their roster. And while the lingerie powerhouse is synonymous with the world’s most famous models, it recently added its first disabled model to the list. Sofia Jirau became Victoria’s Secret’s first model with Down’s Syndrome, making headlines across the world. And while we initially applaud the representation from such a huge brand, we can’t help but think – is this too little too late?

For years, the general public has been vocal about getting more representation in adverts and, in some cases, brands have listened. But, as we all know, sometimes they can get it very wrong in an attempt to show they’ve got their finger on the pulse. Back in 2017, Kendall Jenner famously appeared in the Pepsi advert that showed her ‘solving’ a protest by handing a can of soft drink to a police officer. At a time when more protests were ending with police brutality (specifically against people of colour), this seemed to highlight white privilege in a way that the marketing bosses probably weren’t aiming for.

Other campaigns have missed the mark in similar ways that seem to use real-life problems and trending topics to sell products. Whether that’s adding a rainbow flag to brand logos during Pride months or greenwashing to falsify sustainable credentials, it can be difficult to spot which decisions are genuine and which are simply there to increase clicks. While we applaud and welcome Sofia Jirau, and support her in her modelling career, it seems to have taken Victoria’s Secret a very long time to move away from the classic model style they’ve stuck with for so many years. We hope this isn’t another example of performative allyship, but the first step toward a more diverse future.

For a strategy that won’t fall flat on its face and offend, get in touch with our Insight & Strategy specialists.

Gillette:  ‘Best A Man Can Be’, 2019

Another campaign that might be floating around in our collective memory is Gillette’s 2019 controversial ‘Best A Man Can Be’ campaign. This 1 minute 30 advert is a CTA to toxic masculinity and prompted much debate on its release. The advert depicts displays of toxic behaviour: bullying and fighting between men, and harassment and everyday sexism towards women; both within the media and our everyday lives. In one particularly poignant scene, a woman in a boardroom full of men is interrupted with ‘I think what she is trying to say is…’ while a hand is placed surreptitiously on her shoulder. In the second half of the advert, this behaviour is reprimanded by fellow men, as they question and challenge the negative behaviour amongst their counterparts. The voiceover assures the audience: “Men need to hold each other accountable” because “we believe in the best of men”.

The ad is jam packed with cultural references, both old and new, that pepper the advert throughout: news excerpts with reporters talking about #MeToo, sexual harrasament and toxic masculinity; YouTube videos depicting real life examples of men breaking up fights and Terry Cruz live on TV proclaiming “we need to hold other men accountable”. In fact, the advert is heavy in its meta narrative; down from the name itself to the old school Gilette ads featured. The play on the famous tagline, ‘the best a man can get’ is questioned by the narrator. Is this really the best a man can get?

It’s self-referential and, to a large extent, self-deprecating, casting a critical eye over its previous advertising and everything that’s implied. The sense of meta is strong, as another scene shows three teenage boys mindlessly scrolling through the TV as a series of sexist adverts play. Gilette’s poignant advert depicts how we consciously and subconsciously absorb societal norms. In many ways, it’s an advert about adverts, about the media we consume and the ripple effect that comes from this. So, does art imitate life, or is it the other way around? 

Admittedly, we could really get carried away and analyse this advert for the rest of the week, so we must try and reign it in: what did the general public actually think about it and what does it say about respect? 

Turns out it was a mixed bag. The advert got its fair share of backlash online and then some; faithful customers claiming to never buy Gillette razors again, the advert being named as ‘misandrist’ and the Twitterati claiming it was inherently ‘anti-male’. Piers Morgan, of course, had something to say about it. In a panel discussion on Good Morning Britain and in his own Daily Mail column, he claimed that we must stop “this incessant war on masculinity”.

Others had a more weighted view and claimed it was a good message with poor execution, falling on deaf ears to those who “would actually benefit from the lesson”. Granted, there could have been more nuanced ways to show toxic masculinity than boys fighting, but we’d argue the advert does dig deeper — if only you’re willing to look, that is.

Many viewers appreciated the company’s approach to a difficult and sensitive topic. It received praise for encouraging men to stand up for what they think is right and speaking up when they see something that’s wrong. As well as this, we think it shows how toxic masculinity can be combated, from the tiny moments to the bigger ones.

This wasn’t just an advert about men’s treatment of women. It was also an advert about how men treat themselves and the subconscious expectations that come from this. It was an advert, we think, that tried to show a better future for men and women alike.

Our favourite part of this campaign, though, is that it shows how companies can hold themselves accountable in the right way. Gillette are aware how they have played a part in promoting a hyper masculine image in the past, and now they’re trying to change it up. Self-awareness is sexy, right?

Speaking of sexy… if you want a self-aware, unique and – most importantly – ethical content campaign, our Content team would be more than happy to help. Give us a shout to discuss your campaign goals!

Fenty Beauty, 2017 to Present 

For as long as YouTube has been around, we’ve had makeup artists and beauty “gurus” telling us what’s new in the world of beauty. But way back then, these content creators were limited in the brands they could shop from, with specific lines only carrying a limited number of shades suited for complexions darker than olive tones. Black makeup artists in particular would be left with a minimal shade range from most high street brands. But then Rihanna launched her synonymous makeup brand, Fenty Beauty, with one of the biggest ranges we’ve seen yet.

The launch of 40 foundations and concealers to suit (almost) every skin shade gave the body positivity movement the boost it needed. More than ever, makeup professionals and novices alike were noticing the lack of representation. Tarte, a brand known for its cult favourite, Shape Tape, teased a new range of colours dropping, but fans were left less than impressed with the full range of just 15 shades – most of which were just a few shades darker than your average high street ‘porcelain’.

Since then, the singer has continued to break barriers in every venture. Her Savage X Fenty line often features models who don’t fit the industry-standard sizes, and she’s recently launched a line of male-focused lingerie aimed more toward the LGBTQ+ community. We love to see one brand shaking up multiple industries.

When we started thinking about these campaigns in the office, we sat and chatted for hours about the different adverts that we remember. Old feelings were remembered and new feelings were evoked once we’d looked back at some of the adverts and reactions. After all, this is the point of marketing and advertising, isn’t it? To make you think and feel things. These are just some of the campaigns we remembered which, in our humble opinions, are definitely worth chatting about even today. If you’re interested in creating a campaign that people will remember for years to come (in a good way, of course) or if you just want to discuss different adverts you remember, get in touch with our team. We’re always open to have a chat about all things marketing!