The effect of brand function if an advertisement fails: One minute and 49 seconds that cost $8 billion, by Anne Liikanen
Expectations for the man and the role of the man have undergone a drastic change in recent decades. Simultaneously the role and influence of the consumer has become increasingly influential as the Internet enabling two-way communication. As well-being has increased, ethical values have been emphasized in terms of consumers behavior adding new kinds of pressure on companies to respond to consumers’ changing behavior. All of these changes together resulted in a series of events in which Gillette’s marketing, Gillette’s brand and consumer power were re-evaluated based on a single advertisement.
The contradictory feedback Gilette received by company’s “The Best a Man Can Be” – advertisement provides an opportunity to assess the consumer’s expectations for a brand whilst the risks of company’s brand changes in a rapidly changing world. As consumers´ media literacy improves, the messages created by marketing are quickly broken into pieces and their authenticity assessed. This contradiction: the pursuit of commercial gain and at the same time the pursuit of authenticity and ethics is universally interesting and important phenomena.
The research investigates the effect of brand functions as defined by Jean-Noël Kapferer on advertising, focusing on a poorly received advertising campaign. The material was sourced from YouTube for the advertisement: “The Best a Man Can Be” by Gillette. The negative reactions of the public regarding the campaign are explored through three different research questions by using content analysis as a research method. Comments are categorized by using Kapferer’s functions as a classification frame. The intention is to understand the relationship of Kapferer’s brand functions to consumers‘ reactions in this particular case.
The ad was intended to spark a debate about toxic masculinity. It did that, the audience was discussing the topic but the ad also raised discussion about Gillette’s motives releasing the ad and more broadly: discussion about Gillette’s ethics in general. There were many, who agreed with the ad’s message but didn’t like the way the message was told and more importantly – by who the message was told. As a result of that Gillette got lots of publicity, mostly negative. In the comment field there were messages reminding of Procter&Gample’s ethically problematic past: alleged child labor, use of palm oil, destroying rain forest, corruption. At the same time Gillette reported $8 billion loss and “The Best a Man can be” -campaign was seen as one of the reasons for losses.
The analysis of the comments showed that advertising based on ethics evokes an evaluation of the ethical function in consumers. The analysis also showed that brand functions are working against the brand as easily as they are working for the brand. Brand advocates easily turn to boycotters if they feel offended. Both the brand advocates and the boycotters will receive their badges, badges are just coming from different directions.
Somewhat surprising phenomenon was that commenting was partly political. This may be because the topic of the ad was seen partly political. It is also possible that the forthcoming presidential election was the reason for the politicization of discussion. It is also possible that politically active people are even more specific about what kind of companies they will be connected to as consumers. The people who are confident enough to comment on a YouTube video’s comment field may also correlate with people with strong and vocal political opinions.
The study examines consumers’ reactions to a particular type of advertisement, so the results say nothing about the general reactions of consumers. Given this limitation into account, it can be said that this research brings new insights into how the consumer reacts to seemingly ill-fitting advertisement campaigns. Through analyzing the comments, it can be observed that the brand functions, as stated by Jean-Noël Kapferer, seem to be working both for and against the company’s ideals in equal measures. Furthermore, from this study it can also be ascertained that in addition to Kapferer’s eight brand functions there is also a political brand function as people seem to care about what political profile their consumption reflects. People seem to want to be profiled politically also as consumers.
One interesting topic for further research would be to find out how the forthcoming political (e.g. presidential) elections appear on Internet discussion forums in general. Based on this research, it could be argued that there is a lot of political power struggle in comments that have no visible political significance. If this assumption is true, this phenomenon may have far-reaching effects for social influence. Social media in general has grown into a significant channel of influence and it is therefore important to continue to study its impact also from the political point of view.