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The Lion for Change: Recognising the power of adverts

Watching TV means that every 15-minutes there’s an interruption from a stream of advertisements, which collectively makes up a large portion of our viewing experience. I tend to roll my eyes at the awkward perfume adverts, but there are occasionally ones which do engage me.

Gillette recently revealed their advert on toxic masculinity which gained a lot of publicity through re-tweeting and sharing the video on a myriad of social media platforms. I never thought I would go out of my way to watch an advert, but I did, along with many others with the video reaching more than 4 million views in the first 48-hours of its release, according to a report by The Guardian. This more socially aware advert was a change from Gillette’s usual marketing, whilst this was something I welcomed, it was also met with fistfuls of negative comments.

An issue repeatedly raised with the Gillette advert appeared to be that brands do not have a role to play in social activism. However, as adverts are easily accessed by those with TVs, this wide-reaching capability should be used to engage the audience and start conversations around topics effecting our society and normalise these; like women with hairy armpits, men doing the dishes and multi-ethnic families.

The legendary John Lewis Christmas adverts show that advertising can involve beautiful forms of storytelling that results in emotional responses that are beyond – and in addition to – a desire to buy what is being marketed. The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity showcases branded creative communications and celebrates innovative advertisements.

The festival has several categories which can be entered, one of which is The Lion for Change focusing on how adverts can create positive social change. The 2018 winner of this category was from Libresse, known as BodyForm in the UK, a sanitary products company. The brand released their #BloodNormal campaign with the intention to normalise periods and remove the stigma surrounding them. The advert acknowledges that period cramps exist and hurt, it shows a man buying pads and is the first TV advert to depict period blood as red, and not blue as is normally the case. Despite having a period, I must admit I initially found this uncomfortable to watch but is precisely why the advert is needed. Many women are still made to feel ashamed and dirty of menstruating, but through explicitly showing this in an advert and celebrating it makes these topics unavoidable and will hopefully shatter the taboo surrounding them. The Cannes Lions Festival will be in June this year, and I’m unexpectedly excited to see what advertisements will be celebrated. Having this festival and giving recognition through awards encourages brands to continue to make engaging and progressive content, despite the negative backlash because it will come along side support.

There is still a lot of development to be made in branded communication, but there is certainly a shift in the right direction, and an increased pressure on brands to be socially responsible and engaging.

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