Big Brands Benefitting From Social Issues – Is It Wrong or Just Business?


McDonald’s, Pepsi, Heineken and Dove have all got into trouble recently for combining social issues with a sale message.

First, Pepsi had a heavily criticised add using a celebrity (Kendall Jenner), ditching a photoshoot to participate in a street protest. It ends in cheer and celebration as she hands an officer a cold can of Pepsi.


People were outraged that a massive company would dare use real social issues to sell more cans of soda – no real issue could be solved with something so small. There were reports of Pepsi cans being hauled at the police.

Not every ad campaign works out the way they meant it and sometimes it backfires.

“As soon as you turn it into an ad, the real and true thing becomes a crass and insensitive thing. Attaching a sales message to something changes what it is”

Recently, McDonalds has been getting a thrash with their latest advertisement about a little boy asking his mom if he had anything in common with his late father. The only thing he had in common? They both enjoyed the filit-o-fish.



While brands are a huge part of our everyday lives and some of them have so much meaning to us, surprisingly they can be emotional touchstones and help us through dark times. What it isn’t is an ad. As soon as that sale tag is added, it becomes profit-based and heartless. While we all know that brands are about profit, adding a touching story or social issue to it does not change that fact.

“These ads reinforce the insecurities they claim to fight, and introduce new insecurities that people didn’t know they were supposed to have.”

More recently, Richoh helped return and restore over 400, 000 photos that were lost after the tsunami of Japan in 2011. Free of social media metrics, they did not use it to evaluate themselves in the market but rather did it as a company giving back to people.




While storytelling is a powerful thing, what would the consequences of using social issues to promote your brand be? Is it just a clever way to do business or is it going a little too far?

[via Creative Review, videos via YouTube]