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Monday, October 19, 2015





In addition to what for many marketing organizations continues to be a madcap rush to “figure out social media” (and to thereby create an ever-growing cadre of brand-loyal advocates), there’s something else going on out there that’s both “social” and “advocacy” driven.  It’s something that appears to be a quietly building trend, across a pretty wide range of fast-moving consumer goods categories.  It’s not brands using social media to gain advocates; rather, it’s brands using social media to, at least, appear as social-change advocates.  What kinds of social change?  Well, advocacy for things such as: (1) a definition of family that comprises all combinations of diversity; (2) a plea for an equally broad understanding and acceptance of all approaches to motherhood; and, (3) the one that we would wager started the trend in the first place, a proudly defiant assertion that all women are naturally beautiful...not just the skinny blonde ones featured for decades in photo-shopped advertising.


In case you’re not a YouTube regular or none of your LinkedIn network has sent you some of the more talked-about examples of these social advocacies, among the recently prominent brands engaged in them are Honey Maid Graham Crackers, Tylenol, Similac Baby Formula & Toddler Nutrition—and, of course, Dove Beauty Bar & Care.  What we find particularly intriguing about even these four brands is that, really, only two of them would seem to have an obviously logical connection to make between the social position they’re advocating and the category they compete in:  Dove in beauty care and Similac in baby care.  But a graham cracker and a pain reliever advocating a multi-dimensional definition of family?  What gives?  Perhaps the better question to explore—for any and all brands standing up for socially-sensitive issues—is simply, “Why?  What’s In It For Them?”  In answer to this we have a few hypotheses.  But first, a quick review of what each brand is advocating.


Dove—So much has already been said and written about what began as the “Campaign for Real Beauty” that probably not much review is needed.  But it is worth noting that one of the original hallmarks of this multi-faceted campaign continues to be the Dove Self-Esteem Project.  When you google it, the link’s title reads, “Dove Self-Esteem Project/Dove’s Social Mission”; and the by-line that falls under the title reads:  “We’re on a mission to help more than 15 million girls overcome beauty-related pressures, raise their self-esteem and in doing so realize their full potential.”  At the Project’s site the Brand also notes that it is the largest provider of self-esteem education in the world. 


In on-going communications, the Brand also sustains its ingenious ways of getting women of all ages to self-conclude their own distinct beauty—for example, conducting a video-diary study in which women are asked to wear a new formulation “beauty patch” and report each day on their own self-perceptions of feeling and looking beautiful.  After each participant reaches a confident conclusion about her beauty, she discovers that the “new formulation” patch contains…nothing.


Similac—Now here’s a brand at the other end of the awareness spectrum from Dove.  We haven’t exactly heard much from the Similac Brand lately, let alone talked about it.  But with their “Welcome to the Sisterhood of Motherhood” videos, that’s been changing pretty quickly.  Of course, like Enfamil, Similac is a longstanding baby formula and toddler nutrition brand…though one supposes that, with the increase in breast-feeding among more and more moms all the time, the Similac brand has nowhere near the use occasions it once had.  Not to mention that the “formula versus breast feeding” debate has fostered some well-entrenched philosophies about doing what’s best for your infant and being the “better parent.” 


So, perhaps the time is long overdue for a well-known, name brand to hit social media with a let’s-all-be-respectful plea:  “No matter what our beliefs, we are parents first.”  And, to their credit, the YouTube videos dramatize (without playing it overly straight) that taking care of our kids—all of our kids--is Job One, regardless of deeply-held parenting philosophies.  The thing is, it seems to work:  the connection between the Similac Brand and the social position it advocates comes across as honest, genuine, and credible…a lot like Dove’s does in beauty care.


Honey Maid—When it comes to getting “buzz” in social media and in the marketplace at large, probably no brand has hit the jackpot lately more than this one.  You remember Honey Maid Graham Crackers, right?  A ninety-year-old Nabisco brand that, well, similar to Similac, hadn’t exactly been at the tip of everyone’s tongue for some time.  With their launch of the “This Is Wholesome” campaign on social media and also television in 2014, however, the brand is back—with millions of consumer comments both favorable (“Thank you, family is family!”) and unfavorable (“Disgusting!”).  The Brand claims that favorable comments outpace unfavorable ones ten to one.


But even acknowledging the Brand’s mettle in standing up for all varieties of family (Traditional, Bi-racial, LGBT), you have wonder about the fit between product and social advocacy issue.  Honey Maid offers the simple rationale:  to “celebrate a continual commitment to making nutritious products for every wholesome family.”  And, sure, we get that the product is “made with 100% whole grains and no artificial flavors,” making it appear to be, if not totally natural with no sugar added, at least “less bad for us” than some other biscuits and snacks.  Still, though, the “wholesome” product-family link isn’t exactly a lay-down.


Tylenol—We think that the Brand’s #HowWeFamily advocacy follows that of Honey Maid’s celebration of diverse families--the long-running YouTube videos share a lot in common (first-person narration; spotlighting gay parents with young children; emotive music underneath).  But, of course, since the Tylenol product has nothing to do with “wholesomeness,” the end-of-video tagline reads a bit differently:  Tylenol:  For What Matters Most.”  The overall effort, though, feels a lot like that of Honey Maid because, whereas Honey Maid wants to “celebrate…every wholesome family,” Tylenol exhorts us to “Help us celebrate all families by sharing what makes you proud of yours.”  Assuming you’ve been tracking along with us from a quick review of Dove’s social advocacy to Tylenol’s, you're probably scratching your head the most about the link between the Tylenol Product-Brand and their desire for us all to recognize the equal worth of all families.  Yes, we all know that Tylenol is an American icon, even at times a “pain caregiver.”  But a logical proponent of family diversity?  Really?


Why?  WIIFT? (What’s In It For Them?)—We said at the outset that we wanted to share a few hypotheses about answers for these intertwined questions.  Here goes:

1.  Return to relevance.  As we’ve discussed, at least two of these four brands had been well below the radar for some time.  And even Tylenol, while probably the best-known brand of the four, has suffered through some trying times and tough PR over the past few years.


2.  Maximize social media deployment: social media isn’t a one-way street.  Brands of all kinds are beating the bushes for user-generated content (UGC) from their consumers or customers.  But there’s no reason at all for brands not to also use social media to gain a more favorable perception—by using (in addition to expected product info and stories) brand-generated advocacy (BGA).


3.  Be topical.  Taking advantage of topics “in the wind” is a longstanding marketing ploy.  Of the four brands we’ve looked at, though, both Honey Maid and Tylenol have more transparently exploited what’s been real topical:  same-sex marriage and families.  Yet, being topical works best when it connects seamlessly with the brand.


4.  Substitute a hot emotional issue when lacking an emotional benefit.   There are few things harder for marketers, it seems, than to unearth and exploit a compelling emotional benefit for the brand—one that not only fits beautifully with the brand’s functional benefits, but that also has not been overused by a zillion other brands across many categories.  So, why not pull a kind of sleight-of-hand?  Instead of promising an emotional feeling by choosing one’s brand, why not advocate for an emotional issue that to those who agree with it will think, “Now this brand stands for what I really stand for…this is my kind of brand”?


Let us know what you think.  One hypothesis we didn’t mention here is one that ought to be the most obvious:  Brands engage in social advocacy to incite a predetermined behavior which will, in turn, generate more brand sales.  We would like to assume that, actually, this is the “right” hypothetical answer.


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney



Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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