It doesn't ad up 

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Activism and advertising Nike saw its sales soar after rolling out an ad campaign featuring former NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick.
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  • Activism and advertising Nike saw its sales soar after rolling out an ad campaign featuring former NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick.

Countless corporations are trying to make sure that they're on the right side of history by trying to stake a claim on the side of good takes.

And they're doing everything in their power to make sure you know.

Whether it's Gillette with their The Best Men Can Be campaign a month ago, or Nike putting persona-non-grata quarterback Colin Kaepernick front and centre in an epic ad last fall, major companies are finding it's good business to promote their products with a positive. Who'd have thought?

Plenty of ink has already been spilled bickering about whether the Gillette ad is an attack on EACH AND EVERY MAN (no, anyone who understands adjectives can pinpoint toxic masculinity as a nefarious thread of masculinity, not masculinity as a whole) or whether Nike had doomed itself by hitching its wagon to the blackballed and controversial Kaepernick (its most recent earnings report detailed double-digit worldwide growth for its shoes and apparel).

Both ads were well done, powerful and see the potential to reach higher bars. Some felt threatened by a disruption to their status quo.

I don't think any amount of prose I can type will change anyone's mind on the ads. What's more interesting is those who thought they were good—and to what degree, as a number of folks felt the need to reward these companies financially for, essentially, not being terrible.

Wrote Weird Twitter user Krang T. Nelson on the platform: "the conservative backlash to a truly mild commercial from gilette is obviously hilarious and pathetic but if you buy gilette razors to 'own' conservatives you're falling for the exact same corporate bullshit that they did and you should feel bad."

Imagine if an ad took the opposite tack, explicitly encouraging customers to harass women on the street or dismissing the #MeToo movement. It would, rightly, be vilified. Certainly, the previous razor marketing where a half-naked middle-aged man was caressed by a half-naked model 20 years his junior isn't much of a step up from that, and it's refreshing to see serious systemic issues being taken seriously, but I don't totally understand the impulse to go buy a mittful of products from a company that up until very recently was part of the problem.

Sure, both the Gillette campaign and Nike's agreement with Kaepernick included financial considerations for worthwhile organizations, but just drops in the bucket compared to their profits. Pledging a million bucks a year for three years is significant enough that no one can say Gillette isn't putting its money where its mouth is, but when parent company Procter and Gamble (P&G) is valued in the billions, they're not in any danger of overextending their budgets, either.

Never mind that both P&G and Nike are publicly traded, and anyone reckoning that significant portions of investor dividends aren't being used to furthering some truly horrifying political causes is kidding oneself.

It's a business, after all, and for decades, sex sold. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging a bit, and these days, social justice is an effective strategy. But should Nike really be boasting double-digit gains, or P&G exceed its earnings expectations in large part because of saying the right things in conservations into which they chose to launch themselves?

This isn't to say that customers shouldn't affect change with their wallets. Supporting companies that espouse direct-trade practices, especially industries when it's not necessarily common, is valuable. And opting not to patronize businesses that feel almost like an intermediary for some regressive causes (most famously, American sandwich chain Chick-fil-A's long-time commitment to anti-LGBTQ groups) also seems like a wise choice of one's hard-earned dollars. Those are the every-last-cent-helps choices, not purchasing Gillette or Schick or a house brand of shaving cream.

A recent episode of sitcom The Good Place explored why, for centuries, no human had earned enough points in earthly life to eventually graduate to the peaceful section of the afterlife. In the episode, one man picked flowers for his grandmother in 1534 and received a point boost; a modern-day man ordered flowers for his grandmother, but because of the detrimental environmental and social costs—the blooms were picked by underpaid workers and trucked long distances to their destinations—the thoughtful gesture was a net negative.

The world is a more complicated place than ever before. As consumers, we all need to try our best to ensure our actions minimize harm while maximizing positive effects. The right answer will always be an individual one, balancing one's own needs and well-being with his or her own social conscience. On one's own journey, a kind corporate message can be a factor—but it shouldn't be a starting point.

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