The recent withdrawal of one of Kellogg’s advertisements and the
subsequent media allegations that the company was trivialising childhood
bullying for commercial gain, vividly demonstrated how important the
wider social and political environment can be for brand advertising
All too often, advertising that is creative, striking and apparently
right for a brand, can contain controversial elements that could offend
sections of the public. Bright eyed marketers and creative ad types may
- in their enthusiasm - not consider the social issues that could lead
to embarrassment for the brand and the company behind it.
This is where the in-house or consultancy-based corporate PR
professional should earn their weight in gold by putting on an objective
hat and viewing the creative work with an eye for potential
For example, any campaign that positions a brand or company as a
self-styled expert, or which latches on to real life issue or minority
groups, is always a prime candidate for triggering media outrage. Inmost
cases, the media are inspired to attack by the pressure groups,
charities and government officials who are forever vigilant in promoting
their own causes.
Brands that ignore this group of opinion formers and experts, risk being
seen as lightweight and cynical in their attempt to surf the growing
swell of fin de siecle angst.
Today’s consumer, journalists and pressure groups are perpetually
suspicious and will want to see what is behind any advertisements that -
for example, promote a company’s caring side, or its environmental
credentials. Brands that chose to advance themselves through an
issues-based approach, will discover that it is only a matter of time
before the ranks of single issue pressure groups and campaigners take an
This does not mean that advertisers should eschew the issues-led path to
brand differentiation. Indeed, if well executed, it can be a highly
effective way to add emotional appeal and credibility to a brand.
However, the marketers must work with the corporate PR team, to ensure
issue management safeguards are in place. For example, PR professionals
can scout ahead before ad campaigns are launched to brief and enlist the
support of any relevant opinion formers or commentators.
This vital groundwork may well help to improve the ads by obtaining a
more accurate perspective on an issue - for example, what is it really
like to be disabled, bullied at school or, say, a single parent. Brands
may also gain the support of influential campaign groups - either
formally through the use of logos, or informally via behind the scenes
While this seems like common sense, it is a process that is sadly often
neglected. All too often, corporate communications directors find that
their brands are like wayward teenagers, encouraged by well meaning
advertising uncles. A lot of trouble can be avoided if corporate PR
teams are always consulted and if close relations are nurtured between
advertising agencies and PR consultancies.
Ultimately there needs to be a partnership between those who are
custodians of brand image and those who are concerned with corporate
reputation (they are rarely one and the same).
Corporate PR professionals must take on board the task of winning the
attention and respect of brand marketing colleagues by adding real value
to campaigns. Only then will we see consultation with the corporate PR
team becoming common practice in every marketing department.
Chris Genasi is head of the corporate division at Shandwick Welbeck.