Why political correctness and affirmative action do not work in marketing

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Why political correctness and affirmative action do not work in marketing

We live in a hypercorrect world. Many regulatory bodies safeguarding correctness, fairness and social justice in marketing communications have been getting the wrong end of the stick. Careful segmentation has been in the DNA of marketing, which makes social and societal differences and ability to differentiate offerings for various audiences its primary concern.
Political correctness is used to describe policies, procedures, actions or just language, which do not offend anybody or cause disadvantage to particular groups. To support members of disadvantages or underrepresented groups and to combat discrimination in such areas as education or employment, or access to (public) services, organizations and governments initiate voluntary programs, procedures and policies which are termed as affirmative action.
In the beginning of 2019, Gillette, the world’s most acclaimed razor producer and part of Procter & Gamble’s family of brands, has launched a new marketing campaign under the promise „The Best Men Can Be.” The ad has soon gone viral, contesting masculine stereotypes and shamelessly capitalizing on the aftermath of Mee-Too movement against sexual harassment. The campaign shows wrong „manly” behaviors in the beginning and men caring and loving at the end. However, rather than empowering women (which is perhaps communicated more often when the equality topic is being shown) or making promises to men, the message came across as weakening men and blaming them all for toxic masculinity. The campaign continued later with topics such as „fat acceptance” (showing plus size female model as desired object of male dreams) or an ad picturing a father teaching his female-to-male transgender child how to shave.
Get woke, go broke. Unusual social justice narrative wasn’t left without financial consequences – the only declining product category in 2019 first quarter sales for P&G was the male grooming products. For the 2019 second quarter, the entire P&G reported a net loss of more than 5 billion USD due to an 8 billion USD writedown on Gillette.
Activism and correctness in marketing works only if very specific, well-defined and narrow market segments will become a target. For mass market, it is likely that stereotypes or at least common depictions of usual life will continue to speak to the hearts of most consumers. Promoting products and brands is about selling aspirations for better future for each individual consumer, not selling aspirations for the entire society as a whole. Campaigns of NGOs or governments may be doing the job. Marketeres shall be aligned to their target audience, not to their – presumably more liberal, metropolitan and pro-affirmative – peers.
Look at recent winners in the political battle around the world, where parties and politicians in a number countries purport stereotypical arguments and relate deliberately to views and values of their audiences. (Therefore, media reports about several world leaders, who have been accused repeatedly of political incorrectness, intolerance or even indecency.) Politicians on the winning side do the same as popular mass-market brands and products, they use slightly coarse language and relate to topics relevant for an average consumer.
Political correctness, affirmative action or other desirable activism could become a powerful weapon for brands or products, which appeal to specific types of consumers. Narrowly focused or contentious topics shall be used only if they have already been widely accepted. Burning yet non-controversial issues are the answer!

Résumé

Proč politická korektnost a pozitivní diskriminace v marketingu nefungují

Aktivismus, politická korektnost nebo dokonce i pozitivní diskriminace skupin konzumentů, které se mohou jevit jako znevýhodněné nebo málo početně zastoupené, se pro marketing masově orientovaných produktů a značek nehodí. Zejména jsou-li propojené s tím, že sdělují masově vymezeným cílovým skupinám to, v čem masoví spotřebitelé selhávají. Aktuálním příkladem je vývoj marketingové komunikace u značky Gillete v posledním roce, jemuž nasadila korunu reklamní kampaň s otcem, který učí své transgender potomka, jak se má oholit. Marketingová komunikace pro masové značky může reagovat na horká společenská témata, která však nesmí způsobovat kontroverze.

Kontakt na autorov/Address

doc. Ing. Pavel Štrach, Ph.D., Ph.D., ŠKODA AUTO Vysoká škola o.p.s., Katedra marketingu a managementu, Na Karmeli 1457, 293 01 Mladá Boleslav, Česká republika, e-mail: [email protected]