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Branding the Future: Advertising and Social Activism

Posted by Sullin Jose on March 7, 2017

Branding the Future: Advertising and Social Awareness in 2017

In the series finale of AMC’s Mad Men, the world said goodbye to infamous fictional ad man Don Draper just as he conceived the idea for the iconic “Buy the World a Coke” commercial. Against the backdrop of the social, political and cultural upheaval that characterized the 1960s, the show’s writers allowed their antihero to find catharsis the best way he knew how: by taking life’s lemons and turning them into a million-dollar ad campaign.

It was ratings gold for Mad Men, but in the real world, navigating the waters between social impact and consumer demand can be a bit more complicated for marketers. Yet, as brands are pressured to take a stand on social issues and some of the most popular (and controversial) Super Bowl LI ads have shown, consumer appetite for good, socially conscious storytelling and successfully advertised products are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The Link Between Digital Marketing Initiatives and Consumer Expectations in 2017

As the rise of social media and influencer marketing has continued, particularly in the fashion e-commerce space, it has been discovered that modern consumers (especially millennials) like their advertising with a personalized touch that offers an opportunity to engage and feel connected with their favorite brands. According to a recent article in The Guardian, advertisers are finding that, at least for the moment, activism could be as effective as sex when it comes to making a sale.

Super Bowl LI: Setting the Stage For Socially Conscious Advertising in 2017

After their Super Bowl LI ad crashed the company's website, the agency behind 84 Lumber's historic commercial elaborated on how brands can both participate in and lead important social conversations and issues of the moment.

According to Rob Shapiro, Chief Client Officer at Brunner, the agency that developed 84 Lumber’s Super Bowl LI ad, “Ignoring the border wall and the conversation around immigration that’s taking place in the media and at every kitchen table in America just didn’t seem right. If everyone else is trying to avoid controversy, isn’t that the time when brands should take a stand for what they believe in?


Addressing the issue of the gender gap in STEM education and female representation in the tech sector head on, General Electric (GE) created a 60-second commercial to highlight a bold initiative to achieve 50/50 gender parity in entry-level technology programs by 2020.

“We think that celebrating people, in this case, women, who have had great achievements is far more important than celebrating people who are famous for fame’s sake,” said Linda Boff, GE’s chief marketing officer. “There are people out there—Millie Dresselhaus is the one we’ve chosen to highlight—who have done remarkable things and deserve admiration and adulation, and holding up those women as role models is a really fun way to shine a light on what we’re calling balancing the equation and addressing what is this industry-wide challenge of getting more women into STEM.”


Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch created a 60-second commercial for Super Bowl LI highlighting a fictionalized version of the company’s origin tale, where company founder Adolphus Busch is shown making his way through struggle and adversity as he emigrated from Germany in pursuit of the American Dream.


As political movements and a cultural focus on activism and social responsibility continue to build across communities and generations, brands have a unique opportunity to become a part of the national conversation and design campaigns that allow consumers to connect with companies that understand and share their values.  It won't only be expressed in creative as media buyers become more discriminating of where their ads are placed in the era of fake or hate-based news.  Let's remain hopeful that through advertising messages and placement, this aspect of free market can continue to be a positive social influence.


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Topics: Advertising, Marketing, Activism, social awareness, Super Bowl

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