Does the new Dove breastfeeding campaign show the value of not taking a stance?

A new campaign by Dove, which notes that many people do not think breastfeeding in public is fine, has caused controversy.

I admit, it's not a subject to which I have given much thought, but I fail to see why anyone would oppose breastfeeding in public. But, according to the new campaign, one in four people do object.

One of Dove's straplines reads: "75 per cent say breastfeeding in public is fine, 25 per cent say put them away. What's your way?"

The campaign has received strong criticism from some groups and individuals, who say it justifies and perpetuates discrimination against breastfeeding in a public place.

My first reaction was that this is another example of a cause-driven campaign by a big brand hitting the wrong notes – clumsy at best, cynical and exploitative at worst.

Recent examples are legendary: the Pepsi debacle featuring Kendall Jenner, the shocking McDonald’s UK ‘dead dad’ campaign, and the misjudged ‘woman shaped bottles’ from none other than... Dove.

On reflection, I don’t think the criticism is valid in this instance.

There’s much talk these days about the importance of ‘talkability’ in good PR campaigns – that brands should become part of the conversation, part of the debate.

Sometimes that debate is uncomfortable. Sometimes it means engaging with people whose views differ from your own. Sometimes the views may be seen as abhorrent. But by facing these issues head on, the Unilever-owned brand is stimulating that debate.

In a statement, Unilever said: "We believe there are many ways to be a great mum or dad.

"Our campaign simply aims to celebrate the different approaches and opinions around parenting, including whether or not mums choose to breastfeed in public, recognising that it's ultimately what works for you and your baby that matters the most."

Is raises an important question: do brands have to take a stance on controversial issues these days? Shouldn’t it be enough sometimes to reflect the debate and respect different opinions?

Personally, I think it’s the right decision for Dove to tacitly accept that it’s not the place for a brand to necessarily take a stance on an issue that is so personal. And, despite the criticism, that accepting different views exist and should be debated and challenged is healthy.

After all, how can a campaign truly be ‘disruptive’ if it doesn’t offer such a challenge?

John Harrington is the deputy editor of PRWeek UK

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