To woke wash or not to woke wash

By March 14, 2019Advertising

In today’s video, Luke and I are sitting down to talk all things ‘Woke washing’ – a term that comes in and out of the advertising industry with increasing noise and frequency!

  • What is woke washing?
  • Who does woke washing?
  • Should you woke wash?
  • Or should work washing be avoided at all costs?

Put simply, woke washing is when a company uses a social movement and the values the movement holds to promote their products and brand.

Recently, Gillette (whose campaign attached itself to the Me Too movement and then challenged men to be better, less macho and stop excusing bad behaviour) came under huge fire for what cynics saw as shamelessly commercialising a social or political movement for profit.

There then followed huge amounts of debate about whether all publicity is good publicity, or whether the creatives at Gillette were terrible people who had basically misjudged the entire world and noone should ever buy a Gillette razor EVER AGAIN.

It’s easy to understand why large global brands feel the need to ‘woke wash’.

In a world in which increasingly people connect with brands lead by real people and that support causes that matter, how can you gain traction when as a global entity you may not have a true heartfelt cause or passion (beyond revenue growth).  If you’re big global brand, you also probably don’t have a passionate founder or figurehead at your helm who can help you build trust, meaning and a backstory for your products. So one ‘easy’ way to seemingly generate meaning is to attach yourself to a greater cause.

As a former newspaper journalist, I don’t think woke washing is that dissimilar to the ‘news hijacking’ strategies used by journalists every single day to make non topical stories topical, or by PRs to find a new angle for a particular product or story.

And there are all sorts of benefits to being topical – for a start, it can make a non relevant story feel relevant and also being topical is one of the key ingredients in terms of what makes content go viral. The facts are people are more likely to share and engage with content when it fits with something that is ‘front of mind’, ie connected to the news issues of the day in some way.

However, the difference between your traditional news hijacking and woke washing is the nature of the material and that’s why the former is a perfectly fine strategy and the latter a risky one.

With news hijacking, you are simply attaching your product or message to something that is newsy, which is usually based largely on fact.

The reason Woke Washing feels cynical is that it is trying to force a brand or product into a larger movement than pure news and one that is often highly charged and filled with all sorts of feelings and emotions and injustices, as is the case for the Me Too movement.

So whilst we all know that being topical works, woke washing walks a fine line that in today’s transparent social media world, most people and brands end up losing on.

You cannot attach yourself to a social movement unless it genuinely matters to you and you can prove that through your past and what you do and say every single day.

In the social landscape where you’re not just broadcasting but entering a conversation, and anyone can chime in and point out that you are not telling the truth, or you’re being hypocritical, or that’s not what you said or did last week or last month or last year, nothing matters more than consistently being true and honest about who you are as a company and a brand.

That in itself will go further over the long than the passing moment in which you attach yourself to a social movement simply for commercial gain.

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