Outrage Marketing: How Gillette and Others Profit Off Our Nation’s Divide
Gillette’s new commercial is so touching I almost forgot they charge more for a razor with less Blades simply because it’s pink. Remember their long running Venus ads with half naked model’s shaving already hairless legs under waterfalls? Beyond the veil of social responsibility and activism the simple truth is — they’ve lost too much business to Dollar Shave Club in recent years and are looking for a way to maintain brand relevancy in the struggling 2019 market.
At a time when supposed millennial specters are dooming large brands one by one, and when our country is suffering from a jagged split of ideologies, more and more companies are turning to outrage marketing to sell products. It’s one thing to want your brand trending, another to exploit serious causes to the point the brand risks losing credibility or receiving more trolls and backlash.
Outrage marketing is the act of pitching to trolls because you know they cannot help but spread your ideas by presenting their opposition and/or agreement. It means deliberately startling and offending audiences by violating the norms of societal and personal codes, without providing enough framework for a legitimate change of view. The reason why it’s so deviously effective? People unknowingly spread a brand’s name while defending their own personal ideology. Whether the outrage marketing tactic in question is affecting people positively or negatively, or if they are boycotting or buying in bulk, simply does not matter. The power is in virality, not the message itself.
Other popular examples of outrage marketing include the infamous Pepsi commercial in which Kendall Jenner supposedly ends the national debate on police brutality with a refreshing can of cola. Remember Nike’s controversial Kaepernick commercial for the Olympics, despite the fact they were outsourcing all Team USA designs to Japan at the time?
In less subversive forms, it can be seen in the success of radio shock jocks including Alex Jones and niche extremist websites like Breitbart. Trump’s campaigning practices largely take from this method. It’s how the tea party made it off the web and into national politics. It’s what led white nationalists from behind their computers into the streets, shaking Ikea lawn ornaments with fury. Make no mistake, it is deliberate, it is destructive, it is taught in business school and most importantly, it works.
The problem is not that outrage marketing catapults these causes momentarily into the spotlight, but that it manipulates two vehemently opposing sides further into a feud for the express purpose of building sales or following. Full arguments are not being heard. After all, it is still a commercial. At root, it is meant to sell something and get a brand name stuck in your head, not change the course of human history.
If the first time someone hears of an important term or cause, it’s displayed in liberal vs. conservative or traditional vs. modernist framework, it’s far more likely to be rejected or dismissed in the future. Toxic Masculinity has now gained another scarlet letter that it simply did not need: The threat of impeding upon a very central American male tradition – shaving. And for what? Gillette sold a few more razors and got their name trending again? If this seems beyond socially irresponsible, it is.
While these companies may seem caring, it’s simply not worth the exposure. Let’s face it, such an important issue that has and continues to affect multitudes of people throughout centuries, deserves more time and respect than a commercial for a razor brand. We are feeding into a hostile, social media dictated market that thoughtlessly turns scandal and outrage into currency. We’ve created countless reactionary podcasts and articles with no real substance beyond this rather bizarre and empty, 2019 economy of anger.
The left will make silly memes, the right will propagandize sensationalism over maintaining the status quo and no one will remember anything they didn’t already believe at core value a few months from now except Gillette’s name.
I’ve written about this before in Stop Feeding the Troll and Start Affecting Change. It’s a rather insidious cycle. While honestly, the commercial didn’t catch my or most of my peer’s attention for more than 5 seconds, Joe Rogan, Fox News, late night, and every comedian I perform with is talking about it, like it was some magnum opus of feminism. The truth is, it will be forgotten by next month but the damage to the root cause remains.
By even acknowledging this form of branding, we accidently work in tandem with it, to propagate these improper and hallow viewpoints. In the case of Gillette’s recent commercial, it suggests that fourth wave feminism risks striping the basic rights and traditions of men when exposing systems of power – like in the case of the #MeToo movement – rather than working to further empower men as well. It’s what the proletariat society wants; serfs too busy fighting over scraps to realize they’re being played.