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Advertising Ethics and Social Issues

CASE STUDY: Gillette’s Close Shave with Toxic Masculinity

Case Study PDF | Additional Case Studies


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Screencapture: YouTube.com

Gillette took to social media to air their new “We Believe” advertisement in early January of 2019. The ad depicts what some would consider the issues related to the common “boys will be boys” mind set and the issues related to current social movements. The ad depicts men of all ages partaking in behavior that many found very controversial to begin with. The ad begins with audio from various newscasts that reported on several controversial topics such as the spread of the #MeToo movement and other ways in which men were involved in cultural movements from the past couple of years. The ad continues to show how these ideas are spread by depicting a scene where fathers are standing around a barbeque laughing and as making excuses as their young sons fight. Another scene depicts a very young boy crying to his mother after his peers had sent him text messages calling him derogatorily terms and questioning his masculinity.  Bullying, toxic masculinity, and sexual harassment are all addressed within the short ad campaign. While some believe this ad is challenging men to hold themselves to a higher standard, others disagree and feel that this ad is shaming them based on their gender. The commercial begins by showing men partaking in controversial behavior such as cyber bullying, cat calling, and fighting. The ad then challenges these men to step above these actions by depicting ways men can avoid partaking in and teaching such things to younger generations.

Scott Galloway, founder of the business research firm Gartner L2 and a professor of marketing at New York University, argues “The ‘woke’ business strategy will be a big theme in 2019 as that’s where the money is.” People who seem to agree with Proctor and Gamble’s stance on the issues in “We Believe” applaud the commercials portrayal of real world issues such as bullying and the #MeToo movement. These pro “We Believe” Twitter uses have defended the ad stating “This commercial isn’t anti-male, it’s pro humanity” (Evans 2019). Other viewers have taken to social media and other platforms to discuss their dissatisfaction with Gillette’s message. These viewers seem to feel that this ad blames certain social issues of today on all males regardless of true character.  Political commentator, Ben Shapiro remarked on the issues he saw in the Gillette campaign: “This ad is all about how men have created a crisis of masculinity in America. How men have trained their boys to be bad. How men are solely responsible for all of the ills in American society. An ad created by a company who makes their money off of men shaving” (Shapiro 2019). Along with Shapiro, the hash-tag #BoycottGillette has rapidly gained recognition after the company released this ad. Twitter users in support of this boycott find that “a company who has asked us to celebrate masculinity for 30 years suddenly wants us to feel ashamed of it.” (Grant, 2019). Others agreed with Gillette’s message about harmful gendered stereotypes but remained skeptical about companies like Gillette and Nike using social justice imagery and messages in a calculated attempt to sell products and brand.

Time will tell if such advertising campaigns help or hurt companies’ bottom lines. But the question stands: Is Gillette’s “We Believe” advertisement a smooth use of important social topics or simply another way to gain a positive image among consumers?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Was it smart for a company like Gillette to air a commercial like this or do you feel it will inevitably hurt them as a brand? Why do you think this?
  2. Will this affect the future of advertising and the way companies leverage social issues in campaigns?
  3. Do you think Gillette could’ve accomplished their message without sparking an enormous controversy?
  4. Do you agree that it was hypocritical of Gillette to air this commercial or do you think they’re trying to right past wrongs?
  5. Which brands and in which ways could you see classic male brands aligning or disagreeing with Gillette for Men?

Further Information:

Evans, Erica. “Gillette Is Being Praised and Condemned for an Ad about ‘Toxic Masculinity.’ Here’s What People Are Saying.” DeseretNews.com, Deseret News, 15 Jan. 2019, Available at: www.deseretnews.com/article/900050816/gillette-is-being-praised-and-condemned-for-an-ad-about-toxic-masculinity-heres-what-people-are-saying.html

Gant, Michelle. “Gillette Addresses ‘Toxic Masculinity’ in New Ad Campaign.” Fox News, Available at:  www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/gillette-addresses-toxic-masculinity-in-new-ad-campaign

McCluskey, Megan. “Gillette Makes Waves With Controversial New Commercial.” Time, 15 Jan. 2019, Available at: www.time.com/5503156/gillette-razors-toxic-masculinity/

Meyersohn, Nathaniel. “Gillette Says It’s Satisfied with Sales after Controversial Ad.” CNN, 23 Jan. 2019, Available at:  www.cnn.com/2019/01/23/business/gillette-ad-procter-and-gamble-stock/index.html

Authors:

Grace Holland & Scott R. Stroud, Ph.D.
Media Ethics Initiative
Center for Media Engagement
University of Texas at Austin
February 26, 2019

www.mediaethicsinitiative.org


Cases produced by the Media Ethics Initiative remain the intellectual property of the Media Ethics Initiative and the University of Texas at Austin. They can be used in unmodified PDF form without permission for classroom or educational uses. Please email us and let us know if you found them useful! For use in publications such as textbooks, readers, and other works, please contact the Media Ethics Initiative.

Just Do It?

CASE STUDY: Nike, Social Justice, and the Ethics of Branding

Case Study PDF | Additional Case Studies


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ViktorCylo / CC BY 3.0 / Modified

In September of 2018, Nike unveiled their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, featuring prominent athletes such as Serena Williams, LeBron James, Lacey Baker, and Odell Beckham Jr. Also featured in the series is former San Francisco 49ers quarterback turned activist Colin Kaepernick, who has been a controversial figure since early August of 2016 when he protested racial injustice in America by sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem at the start of football games. Kaepernick’s Nike advertisement, which he posted to social media sites on September 3, 2018, displays a close-up image of his face with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” written across the image. Some have praised the advertisement as taking a stand in the nationwide debate over the state of minority rights while others have been concerned with Nike’s movement into the arena of political advocacy.

Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand marketing for North America, defended the company’s featuring of Kaepernick, who has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season when he refused a contract with the 49ers: “We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward.” Additionally, many high-profile athletes and celebrities have voiced their support for Nike and Kaepernick, including LeBron James and Serena Williams, both outspoken figures about social justice in their own right. “He’s done a lot for the African American community, and its cost him a lot. It’s sad,” Williams said of Kaepernick. “Having a huge company back him,” she continued, “could be a controversial reason for this company, but they’re not afraid. I feel like that was a really powerful statement to a lot of other companies.”

Other observers see Nike’s move from the commercial to the political as potentially concerning. Michael Serazio worries that this is just another sophisticated trick from a corporate powerhouse: “Getting us to think we’re making a statement by buying Nike is the long con advertising has played, and it has played it well.” Increasingly, brands are giving in to a recent demand for politicization, forcing consumers to question the political participation of various corporations. Some argue that Nike is using a popular movement to increase its own sales, and taking advantage of the prestige and celebrity status of its minority athletes while doing so. Another worry is that it distracts attention from how Nike products are made, often by workers in difficult working conditions in developing countries. As Serazio puts it, the new campaign risks diverting our focus from “the marginalized who make stuff rather than the posturing it affords those privileged enough to own it.”

The advertisement campaign is a risky move for Nike, who might garner heightened attention to its products and brand, but who also runs the risk of alienating part of its consumer base by becoming too politicized. Swaths of the football-watching public, and public at large, are divided by the anthem protests carried on by Kaepernick and others. By featuring the originator of this series of protests, many fans might view Nike as standing with black athletes and their concerns. Yet others may view the advertisement as an attempt to profit off of a protest that strikes at the heart of patriotic values that some hold dear. Some owners of Nike products even illustrated their disgust with the campaign by burning their shoes, and then subsequently posting the flaming images on social media. So far, however, Nike has not sacrificed anything due to the gamble that this advertising campaign represents: Nike stock is up 5% since the advertisement hit the public, representing $6 billion increase in Nike’s market value.

Nike’s campaign was meant to garner attention and make a statement on its 30th anniversary. It succeeded at accomplishing these goals. But many are still wondering: was Nike primarily interested in taking a courageous stand on an important political issue of our time, or were they simply using Kaepernick as a clever ploy to sell more shoes?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should a company like Nike get involved in matters of political controversy and social justice?
  2. Is Nike misusing Kaepernick and the NFL protests in its recent campaign? If you judge this to be the case, what other ways could Nike do if they wanted to bring attention to these issues and protests?
  3. Do you think that these advertisements will hurt Nike’s brand or bottom line? Do you think this is an important ethical consideration for Nike?
  4. Should companies take stands on controversial debates orbiting around justice and the public good in their advertisement campaigns? Why or why not?
  5. Nike clearly has the ability—and right—to take a stand on this issue. What should the virtuous consumer do in reacting to Nike’s campaign? What about if they disagree with Nike’s stance?

Further Information:

Anderson, Mae. “Good for business? Nike gets political with Kaepernick ad.” September 4, 2018. Available at: https://www.apnews.com/6aaced14b24d4622aefeb44d3b17c2d6

Belvedere, Matthew J. “Sorkin: Nike’s Kaepernick ad decision was based on ‘attracting big name athletes’ who side with his cause.” September 7, 2018. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/07/sorkin-nike-kaepernick-ad-based-on-attracting-big-name-athletes.html

Boren, Cindy. “As Trump tweets, Colin Kaepernick shares new Nike ad that reportedly will air during NFL opener.” Washington Post. September 5, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2018/09/05/trump-says-nike-is-getting-absolutely-killed-over-colin-kaepernick-ad-renews-attack-on-nfl-players/

Reints, Renae. “Colin Kaepernick Pushes Nike’s Market Value Up $6 Billion, to an All-Time High.” Fortune. September 23, 2018. Available at: http://fortune.com/2018/09/23/nike-market-value-colin-kaepernick-ad/

Rovell, Darren. “Colin Kaepernick part of Nike’s 30th anniversary of ‘Just Do It’ campaign.” ESPN. September 3, 2018. Available at: http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/24568359/colin-kaepernick-face-nike-just-do-30th-anniversary-campaign

Serazio, Michael. “Nike isn’t trying to be ‘woke.’ It’s trying to sell shoes.” Washington Post. September 5, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/09/05/nike-isnt-trying-be-woke-its-trying-sell-shoes/

Authors:

Holland J. Smith & Scott R. Stroud, Ph.D.
Media Ethics Initiative
Center for Media Engagement
University of Texas at Austin
September 24, 2018

www.mediaethicsinitiative.org


Cases produced by the Media Ethics Initiative remain the intellectual property of the Media Ethics Initiative and the University of Texas at Austin. They can be used in unmodified PDF form without permission for classroom or educational uses. Please email us and let us know if you found them useful! For use in publications such as textbooks, readers, and other works, please contact the Media Ethics Initiative.

Ethics in Public Relations

The Center for Media Engagement and Media Ethics Initiative Present:

What are the Ethical Challenges in Public Relations Practice?

Kathleen Lucente
Founder & President of Red Fan Communications

October 30, 2018


 


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After a successful and award-winning career working for IBM, J.P. Morgan, Ketchum Worldwide and other global brands and agencies, Kathleen Lucente moved to Austin just as the city began its meteoric rise as a hotbed for tech startups and investment. She is the founder and president of Red Fan Communications, an Austin-based public relations firm that has helped countless companies clarify their purpose, tell their unique stories, and establish lasting relationships with clients and customers. She serves on several boards and donates much of her and her staff

’s time to local nonprofits that have tangible impact throughout the community, including the Trail of Lights, the ABC Kite Fest, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

The Media Ethics Initiative is part of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow MEI and CME on Facebook for more information. Media Ethics Initiative events are open and free to the public.


 

Ethics in Public Relations

The Center for Media Engagement and Media Ethics Initiative Present:


Ethics in Public Relations

Kathleen Lucente
Founder & President of Red Fan Communications

October 30 ¦ 2:00-3:00PM ¦ BMC 5.208


KLWhat ethical challenges await the public relations professional? Kathleen Lucente, the Founder and President of Red Fan Communications, discusses a range of ethical choices and challenges facing those in the public relations profession, including: ensuring that reporters are fair, just, and honest in their coverage of one’s client, dealing with inappropriate client relations, maintaining honesty and transparency between a client and agency, and the challenges maintaining your client’s reputation while also maintaining yours as an agency in situations of crisis. This talk will be of interest to students wishing to pursue careers in public relations, as well as scholars researching the practices and effects of public relations.

After a successful and award-winning career working for IBM, J.P. Morgan, Ketchum Worldwide and other global brands and agencies, Kathleen Lucente moved to Austin just as the city began its meteoric rise as a hotbed for tech startups and investment. She is the founder and president of Red Fan Communications, an Austin-based public relations firm that has helped countless companies clarify their purpose, tell their unique stories, and establish lasting relationships with clients and customers. She serves on several boards and donates much of her and her staff’s time to local nonprofits that have tangible impact throughout the community, including the Trail of Lights, the ABC Kite Fest, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

The Media Ethics Initiative is part of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow MEI and CME on Facebook for more information. Media Ethics Initiative events are open and free to the public.


 

Moral Psychology and Media Practice

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The Media Ethics Initiative Presents:

Moral Psychology and Media Practice: Keys to Ethical Behavior in News, Public Relations, & Advertising

Dr. Patrick Lee Plaisance

Professor of Journalism & Media Communication

Colorado State University

Editor of the Journal of Media Ethics

April 10, 2017 — 1:30-3:00PM — Room: CMA 5.136 (LBJ Seminar Room)

Moral psychology theories and methodologies offer exciting opportunities for work that advances media ethics research in new ways. From brain scans to ‘life story’ interviews to survey data, these opportunities are being explored with diverse populations in multiple disciplines. As empirical researchers increasingly interact with moral theorists, moral psychology research is able to explore the relationships among psychological/individual factors and organizational-level structures and influences, and thereby illuminate the forces that help or hinder virtuous work. Similar lines of research with media workers is critical if media ethics theorizing is to continue to mature.

Dr. Patrick Lee Plaisance worked as a journalist at numerous American newspapers for nearly 15 years in Virginia, New Jersey, California, and Florida. After receiving his Ph.D. from Syracuse University, he joined Colorado State University as a faculty member. His research focuses on media ethics theory, journalism values and media sociology, and moral psychology. He is author of Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice (SAGE, 2009; 2nd ed. 2014) and Virtue in Media: The Moral Psychology of Excellence in News & Public Relations (Routledge, 2014). He is editing the forthcoming volume, Handbook of Communication Ethics (DeGruyter, 2017). He is the current editor of the Journal of Media Ethics, a leading outlet for research on media ethics. He has published his own research in various scholarly journals, including Journal of CommunicationCommunication Theory, Communication Research, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, and Journalism Studies.

Free and open to the UT community and general public

Supported by the School of Journalism (UT Austin)

For further information, contact Dr. Scott Stroud

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