Jul 8, 2015

Brands Will Be Brands: Making Sense of the #LoveWins PR Explosion

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.53.03 PMIt all started with this text exchange between myself and an equally snarky former colleague, who happens to share my appreciation for audacious branded content.

What began as a game turned into a passion project, which turned into an investigation, and the results yielded a video with an entirely different message than the one I intended to create.

I’ll start by regurgitating something I posted on Facebook when I originally shared the finished product.  After the ‪#‎SCOTUS‬ decision, I was pretty appalled out by all the ways companies were using symbols of LGBT pride in order to promote their products.

You can’t just stick rainbow sunglasses on Colonel Sanders and pretend he is a symbol of love & acceptance.

Within the first few hours of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, ad agencies started lining up their clients’ products in ROYGIBIV order.  Because nothing says equality like a row of multicolored binder clips.

The bigwigs over at Twitter HQ were pretty impressed, because they produced not one but TWO infographics illustrating the volume of tweets created from #LoveWins, and a subsequent blog post broke down Corporate America’s “witty” and “heartfelt” celebrations of equality.  Since the hashtag was producing up to 36,000 tweets per minute, it wasn’t long before I seeing the same branded social post over and over, advertising Smart Cars and Doritos and Ugg Boots

I laugh when I see brands try to capitalize on a trending hashtag, because it’s cheap, lazy, and sometimes mildly offensive.  But as a single urban female with a social circle largely dominated by homosexual men, I couldn’t justify my own cynicism.   Because it’s a rare thing when my social feeds are all flooded with positivity.

Whether or not the sentiment is truly authentic, this kind of visibility breeds tolerance.  The number of brands who chose to celebrate marriage equality symbolizes a more liberal definition of corporate responsibility.  It is now publicly acceptable — and dare I say, politically correct — for American businesses to stand by the LGBT community.

 

 

“For a long time, prejudice made a certain business sense… Coors beer could advertise in gay magazines while funding anti-gay interests and keeping any hint of the “non-traditional” out of the ads it ran for general audiences. The regressive side in the so-called culture wars was presumed to include a majority of American consumers; businesses, worried about their image, tended to defer to them.”
“Honey Maid and the Business of Love,” The New Yorker, April 2014

Rather than focusing R&D on initiatives that could potentially improve a product or service, brands are purging their resources in a quest to achieve the ideal social presence.   On the upside, social agencies craft unique voices that nullify the authoritative tone of traditional corporate communications, causing businesses to loosen their their PR grip and embrace creativity in the process.

After releasing a commercial featuring same-sex couples, Honey Maid addressed the backlash  by hiring installation artists to print out YouTube comments and create the word “LOVE” from thousands of paper tubes.  This new spot received 1.5 million views within 24 hours, a barrage of positive responses, and an onslaught of good PR.  

 

 

Right-wing trolls use these brands as symbols of sin, claiming their social presence mocks the biblical definition of marriage.  Some companies are cautious, composing tactful responses and replying to comments (KOOL AID? more like “Kool AIDS!”) with complete sincerity.  

Then there were those who fight fire with fire.  Perhaps my favorite example (which I used in the video) is sassy genius who threw some serious shade from Jello’s Twitter account after the SCOTUS ruling.

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I could have dedicated an entire video to brands who went out of their way to defend equality, correcting grammatical errors of these careless bigots.  But hate on the Internet is hardly a new phenomenon — and somewhere between K-Mart and The Container Store, I changed mind about the #LoveWins PR explosion.

 

kmart

 

It wasn’t an overly-produced graphic or a flashy .gif.  It wasn’t even uploaded in hi-res.  K-Mart, a brand that is arguably symbolic of Middle America, tweeted a simple photo which declared in comic-sans typeface: “Love Wins.” It was just enough to merit messages from K-Mart workers, past and present, who were genuinely glad to see a statement from their employer.  And this rare display of optimism and earnestness extended far beyond Twitter.

Because Facebook’s algorithm allows users to promote certain comments, messages of love and support drowned out the trolls leaving hateful comments.  While I originally scoffed when The Container Store posted a photo depicting some sort of rainbow storage pack, I couldnt ignore the pride oozing from comments like this one:

“Thank you#thecontainerstore for posting this and for leading with love! Some people may be unhappy about this post…but they don’t really get us. I don’t know where I would be without my Container Store family and I don’t care to know. This is where I belong. I’m gay and transgender and open about my identity and you support me just the same. If that’s not true love I don’t know what is. #lovewins #consciouscapitalism

I’m not going to jump on the #ConsciousCapitalism hashtag, but I will applaud those who reinforced a positive message on June 26th.  Last year, these would have been bold PR moves.  Gay & Lesbian rights were long considered polarizing subjects, and the Honey Maid backlash was hardly ancient history (their response video was posted on April 3rd, 2014).

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 9.56.14 AMBecause nothing gold can stay, brands have abandoned their optimism in favor of more explicit promotional tactics.  Users on social have followed suit, removing their rainbow avatars and returning to their regularly scheduled Facebook profiles.

In a poll conducted by Buzzfeed, 47% of those surveyed said it was appropriate to remove the filter within a few days.  According to the poll, 81.3K respondents agreed with the following statement: “A few days seems about right. There’s lots of other important issues out there.

The poll spawned a discussion on Wired.com, suggesting that brands should consider exactly when to ditch their specialized avatars.  Gawker led an investigation to see which brand was truly committed to promoting equality, noting that most companies waited just four days before swapping logos.

“There’s a danger of jumping on the bandwagon,” says Allen Adamson, North American chairman of the brand consulting agency Landor. Removing the rainbow too soon might seem insensitive to the long fight leading to this moment. But keeping it up without demonstrating more support for the cause could be construed as opportunistic. Once a company has jumped, as many have over the last few days, it needs to figure out if it’s up for a lengthy ride. “If they really believe in this cause,” Adamson says, “they’ve got to stay committed to it beyond its trending on Google Analytics.”
– “How Long Should Brands Keep Their Rainbow Logos,” Wired, June 2015

I’m not dismissing any of the 10 million demonstrations of pride.  I’m just one person who was particularly inspired by the visible shift in our country’s opinion towards the LGBT community, and I want the conversation to continue.

I only have upwards of 800 Twitter followers (😉you can follow me here!😉), and let’s be serious – my personal blog doesn’t exactly offer global reach on par with corporate social profiles.   Organizations like GLAAD exist because media advocacy is arduous, time-consuming, and expensive.

Its website wisely proclaims: “…You can’t legislate acceptance. Marriage equality is a benchmark, not a finish line.”  

For 30 years, GLAAD has fought to promote fair and inclusive LGBT representations in the media.  Research reports, including GLAAD’s 2015 Studio Responsibility Index, applaud organizations who accurately portray gay and lesbian characters in television and film.   The website has a ton of resources for those looking to change spread awareness online, and you can always make a statement with good old American dollars.

They need your support, because rainbows don’t just appear overnight.