Corporate Activism

Isabella Ashton, Editor-in-Chief

“Because I shave for me.”

Or, so say the three women in Bic Soleil’s latest shaving razor commercial. I happened to watch this commercial while leeching off of my aunt’s Hulu account a few months ago, and the annoyance I felt was enough to launch me on an exasperated tirade heard only by my dog sitting on the couch next to me.

In the ad, three smiling women cheerfully explain why they choose to shave. Their reasons include wanting to look good, wanting to be smooth, and wanting their sweatpants to feel “even more amazing.” And, as quite explicitly explained by the ad, these women are shaving because they want to. No man can tell these ladies what to do!

The women in this ad didn’t need to outright say that choosing to shave is an empowering decision. It was pretty heavily implied. Yes, the ad implies that by purchasing a Bic Soleil shaving razor, a woman can feel as if she is supporting a progressive company with a progressive marketing style that displays their progressive ideals.

If that seems like a bit of leap, perhaps it’s time to familiarize yourself with the advertising techniques companies use on a regular basis.

This ad, like many others, is just another example of how companies exploit a movement or statement to sell a product. It isn’t always as obvious as, “Because I shave for me.” But this technique is becoming increasingly more common as consumers have started to demand more social responsibility from corporations.

The demand for greater social responsibility from corporations has brought about significant changes; companies must now be more transparent about the treatment of their workers, their environmental impact, and their policies on sexual harassment, to name a few. Quite simply, it is good for business to be in the business of ethical production. Or, to at least appear to be.

More often than not, corporations are not truly invested in creating positive change. Their bottom line is always to make more money, and at a time where social awareness is prized, both activists and the politically “woke” are among corporations’ most lucrative markets.

Take, for example, Pepsi’s failed ad showcasing Kendall Jenner. In the ad, the supermodel attends a protest alluding to the Black Lives Matter movement. Imitating the photo of Iesha Evans standing up to a police officer at a BLM protest earlier that year, Jenner seemingly solves the conflict by handing a police officer a coke of Pepsi. The ad immediately garnered backlash as people accused Pepsi of taking a hollow stance against police brutality to sell their product.

“No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest. That’s just not the reality of our lives. That’s not what it looks like to take bold action,” said former BLM organizer Elle Hearnes in an interview with the New York Times.

However, not all moves to attract young, liberal consumers are as blatantly disingenuous as Pepsi’s.

Nike’s ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick has been praised for its apparent support of the former NFL player’s stance against racism and police brutality. Blackish star Jenifer Lewis even wore a Nike shirt at the Emmy’s to express her support of the company’s ad.

“What can I do? What can I do that’s meaningful? I’ll wear Nike. I’ll wear Nike to say thank you. Thank you for leading the resistance! We need more corporate America to stand up also,” said Lewis in an interview with Variety.

Perhaps it was a gamble for Nike to throw their support behind Kaepernick, a man reviled by the president and much of conservative America. But it was a calculated gamble at that, and one that paid off in significant profit increases. Online sales increased by 31%, according to Time Magazine, much in thanks to their younger, more diverse consumer base.

There is no doubt that Nike paired up with Kaepernick to drive up sales. Although they gave publicity to Kaepernick, the advertising campaign never explicitly referenced his protests during football games or the very inequalities Kaepernick tried to spread awareness of.

Companies often do this. Whilst seeking the positive PR brought on by supporting social causes, they avoid endorsing the controversial aspects in order to keep their product palatable to the general consumer. Nike doesn’t truly care about Kaepernick’s message, and offering the generic statement to “Believe in something” doesn’t contribute to the fight against racism in America.

It is easy to feel self-satisfaction or like we are making a difference when we buy a product from companies like this. These marketing strategies are in fact designed to reward the consumer’s conscience for such purchases. But the next time you reach for a Bic Soleil razor or a pair of Nike brand shoes, ask yourself if you are supporting a real cause or a corporation’s self-serving marketing strategy.