Will Brands Risk #Boycott With Socially Conscious Ads This Awards Season?

With the Academy Awards fast approaching, I’m again dumfounded by how enamored we Americans are with awards shows. Best album, best actor, best sporting dog—there’s hardly any endeavor, human or otherwise, we don’t celebrate with a chunk of Lucite and a chicken dinner.

Advertising people are arguably the most vulnerable of all humans to the siren song of silly statuettes. So much so that there’s now an app called Adspur to help us navigate the more than 450 global awards show opportunities we have created to memorialize our inflated egos.

In normal years, I’d say we have enough awards to last us. But inspired by attention garnered by Super Bowl ads from 84 Lumber and Airbnb, I’d like to posit that in 2017 we might benefit from one more awards competition, one that recognizes those brands courageous enough to put social values above share value. I suggest we christen it the “Ballsy Awards.”

Why a Ballsy? Well, while brands promoting social consciousness stand to benefit greatly, you can’t overstate the pucker factor that must consume CMOs about to intentionally piss off the president of the United States and risk associating their brand name with #boycott for the next four years.

If we’re being totally honest, CMOs as a group aren’t known for their courage. The Ballsy Award would be a small but meaningful gesture toward recognizing their moxie and motivating future risk-takers.

So, in the “Actions Speak Louder than Words” category, I’d like to nominate Starbucks and Nordstroms for a Ballsy. In defiance of Donald Trump’s travel ban, Starbucks promptly vowed to hire 10,000 refugees, and Nordstroms summarily discontinued the Ivanka Trump line of clothing and accessories. Without the aid of paid media, these companies quickly dominated social media. Given that both brands have a large number of Republican-leaning customers, the decision to risk alienating a key segment took some, well, serious cajones.

Predictably, #boycottStarbucks and #boycottNordstroms movements cropped up instantly. But the companies stuck to their narratives and didn’t back down from their values. Neiman Marcus, Belk, HSN and T.J. Maxx receive honorable mentions for also distancing themselves from Trump branded products.

 

You can’t overstate the pucker factor that must consume CMOs about to intentionally piss off the president of the United States and risk associating their brand name with #boycott for the next four years."

In the “Most Political Super Bowl Ever” category, my nominees for Ballsies go to 84 Lumber and Budweiser. Talk about going against the grain. There are countless construction contractors and beer drinkers living right smack in the middle of the 60-million-plus Trump voter block, and many of those folks were presumably loyal to those brands. Knowingly disrupting market share to make a political statement takes stones—major league stones.

In the “Grammy Broadcast” category, the nomination goes to Nike. The brand’s beautifully produced and written “Equality Has No Boundaries” commercial featured famous athletes, including tennis star Serena Williams and NBA legends LeBron James and Kevin Durant. “Opportunity should not discriminate. The ball should bounce the same for everyone. Worth should outshine color.”  The copy tells us that, “If we can be equals here [a basketball court], we can be equals everywhere.” This was an especially ballsy move for Nike considering Trump’s supporters quickly began dredging up Nike’s checkered history of harsh “sweatshop” labor practices, labeling the company hypocritical.

While it might be tempting to contemplate a “Ballsy Best of Show,” we must exercise patience, at least until the conclusion of the Academy Awards broadcast on Sunday. Short of election night itself, there is no more politically charged publicly televised event than the Oscars. And there is no better venue to look for Ballsy nominees.

Emboldened by the likes of 84 Lumber, Nike and Budweiser, there are probably at this very moment CMOs reviewing rough cuts of Oscar Night spots that will put them directly in the crosshairs of political controversy and solidly in line for a Ballsy nomination. Their palms may be sweaty, but their spirits are no doubt high as they position their respective companies as having not only a product, but a conscience as well.

So in the spirit of celebrating advertisers willing to take a chance on displaying their conscience at the potential expense of their bottom line, join my colleagues and me on Oscars Night at #BallsyAwards to acknowledge the risk-taking spirit that is stiffening the resolve of marketing directors around the globe.

We’ll tally up the results and comments at the end of the night and post them right here.

Kipp Monroe

Author: Kipp Monroe
Date: February 24, 2017