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Gillette's recent campaign challenged men to be better men. Picture: SUPPLIED/BOOMTOWN
Gillette's recent campaign challenged men to be better men. Picture: SUPPLIED/BOOMTOWN

Over the past five years, there has been a lot of industry talk about the quality and standard of creativity delivered by brands and their creative partners. Yes, there has been the odd standout piece, generally aligned to a hot political story or a cultural nuance, but in general, we have seen a dip in the level of advertising.

So what can we attribute it to?

Questioning whether social media is killing advertising is valid, and before all the social media gurus get on their high horses, hear me out.

For the past two months, two different campaigns from different categories have been brutally criticised on social media. 

The first was the Gillette “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” campaign, which challenged men to be better men. It encouraged us to stop being chauvinists, to stop bullying, to forget the macho facades; it challenged gender inequality in the workplace and asked us to hold each other to a higher standard, to be kinder, gentler, more humane.

Social media went mad. The backlash was enormous, with men calling for a boycott of the brand. The YouTube video of the advert has garnered 29.5m views to date, with more than 420,000 comments. The number of likes stands at 777,000 with double the number of dislikes (1.4m). 

On Twitter, the debate got even more heated when Piers Morgan, who is never far from controversy, declared he would no longer buy Gillette products and called on society to let "boys be boys". Yes, the advert used generic stereotypes, but how many adverts don’t? In truth, the message was to be a better man – treat all people with respect and humility, be kind and care, even if it's just a little. I found the advert powerful, an emotional challenge to be a better man and a better role model for my son.

The second campaign was a bit closer to home. Woolworths’ Valentine's Day campaign using lighthearted references to the male and female idiosyncrasies. The popular retailer has dealt with several product plagiarism claims in the recent past, but I believe its Valentine's Day campaign was unfairly crucified on social media. It was criticised to such an extent that it had to pull the campaign to avoid further fallout.

About the author: Andrew MacKenzie is MD of Boomtown. Picture: SUPPLIED/BOOMTOWN
About the author: Andrew MacKenzie is MD of Boomtown. Picture: SUPPLIED/BOOMTOWN

When did we become so sensitive to advertising? Perhaps social media offers a platform for anybody with an opinion to hide behind their black mirror and share it for others to latch onto and spread the poison. The bitterness, hatred and anger that it solicits is nothing short of scary, and even more surprising is the sort of content that attracts negativity.

The problem is that brands have become too scared to push the boundaries. Creative partners are finding it increasingly difficult to sell ideas that challenge consumers; campaigns that makes a stand, that are different, courageous, even brave; great campaigns that challenge stereotypes and conformity, that push us into a slightly uncomfortable place; and ads that are memorable and stand out. 

Will we see campaigns that achieve this? Perhaps a better question to ask in the interest of optimism is: will we see brands and marketing managers being brave enough to take a stand for ideas and creativity that will leave a positive legacy?

This article was paid for by Boomtown.