It’s Prime Time for Brands to Air Their Dirty Laundry

At a time when people are scrutinizing how much the media can impact perspectives (and…elections) like never before, some brands are taking the opportunity to showcase past mistakes with the hope that, by doing so, they will be able to demonstrate their commitment to rectifying past mistakes and win over shopper loyalty. The overarching sentiment is, “that’s who we were, but not who we are anymore. Trust us.”

One great example of this is National Geographic’s recent race-themed issue. In it, National Geographic explores how race defines, separates, and unites us, while also taking a look at the role the magazine’s own content may have played in driving our ideas about race. To do this, National Geographic recruited historian John Edwin Mason to analyze its photos and articles published over the past 130 years. Mason found that subjects of color were typically depicted as “savages,” and bare-chested women were often photographed to entice male readers. In Mason’s words, National Geographic promoted the view that the “black and brown world was primitive and backward and generally unchanging.”

This content is running in National Geographic current issue because—in its words—“For decades, our coverage was racist. To rise above it, we must acknowledge it.”

Several other brands are making moves to come clean about their past as well. For example, Brazilian beer brand Skol recently hired female illustrators to rework its sexist ads. Meanwhile, Lancôme recently rehired 63-year-old model Isabelle Rossellini, who the company had fired 20 years ago for being “too old.”

Brands evolve, and a necessary part of that evolution is shedding norms that, in the light of new generations, show their age. The problem is, people raised in an information age aren’t likely to just forget brands past missteps. In addition to asking “what do you value?”, today’s shoppers ask “how do you show it?” What brands like Nat Geo, Skol, and Lancôme are doing now puts them on the right path toward building what will ultimately become a collective history of who they are. However, it’s what they do next that will cement their sincerity.

If there are skeletons in a brand’s closet that need addressing, can they do it in a way that showcases the values they hold now? If so, it might be a good time for them to come clean.

Contributed By: Reaghan Roche, Integer Denver
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