Get woke go broke, rhymes. It is, however, a stupid criticism nearly every time I’ve heard it applied to a company’s advertising. The exceptions are when the criticism of wokeness is a criticism of the messaging and placement. Or when a company is truly ideologically motivated, but the latter is rare.
In almost every example of ad people call “woke,” the business has no company-wide ideology. People at companies have ideologies and may push a firm toward their morality. But Disney or Procter & Gamble are too large and complex as organizations, having too many moving parts to be truly ideological.
When a publicly traded company, with a board of directors and many layers of executives, does something, it’s generally smoothed into whatever the decision-makers believe benefits them. Their incentives are aligned with the company making money to pay out shareholder dividends. Charitably this is an imperfect system, but it also means any perceived ideology, woke or otherwise, is a hollow commitment.
Pride Month is June. For the last few years that means each June, Target will greet everyone with a display for cardboard rainbows holding forth gay apparel, fa la la la, la la, la la.
Target has LGBTQ+ employees and allies up and down the org chart. But the pride displays are because the items sell at a profit. It’s a sign of cultural acceptance that the LGBTQ+ market segments are so far out of the closet they can be openly catered to by a company that wants money.
The hand full of people flipping out on social media over the rainbow vomit wokeness are, generally speaking, free advertising. Were Target a single location store in rural Texas it may not work. But Target is a top 10 retailer by size, and at scale, the lunatic’s freaking out help the bottom line.
Bud Light hired Dylan Mulvaney for a promotion. Mulvaney is trans, and while famous, not Beyoncé famous. Also, Mulvaney is not the kind of person normally associated with Bud Light, causing some uproar. The buzz has probably been incredible for Bud Light directly, but certainly for AB InBev.
Bud Light is a joke among many; It’s the water of beers. It’s cat piss in a glass. It’s also the top-selling beer in the US for 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and I stopped looking. Bud Light can handle people posting social media videos of them shooting the blue cans.
All the social media attention is giving a mid-tier influencer’s brand partnership, Beyoncé levels of awareness. The rants and media coverage will make some thirsty for beer. Some may even want to support bud light. Others won’t buy a Bud Light or a Budweiser; they know better get woke go broke after all!
But the people, now thirsty for beer, may pick up some similarly priced beer from Michelob Ultra, Stella Artois, Busch Beer, Natural Light, Landshark, Shock Top, Hoegaarden, or one of the other brands owned by AB InBev. AB InBev doesn’t hold all the beer, but they own a lot. Carlsberg Group, Molson Coors, and Heineken will benefit from the Bud Light outrage.
The biggest threat to beer right now, is perceived as hard seltzer. If Mulvaney has gotten people talking about beer, AB InBev will make money. And that’s the goal, profit.
Few to none of the woke companies people point to are ideologically motivated. They deserve neither praise nor rage for wokeness. Some companies are truly moving due to ideology.
Look at B&H Photo, they aren’t a woke example, but you’ll understand what I mean. The company is owned and operated by Hasidic or Orthodox Jews who keep Shabbos. So bhphotovideo.com does not process orders from sundown on Friday to sunset on Saturday.
What about Chick-fil-A? Despite an apparent 2019 PR push saying Chick-fil-A loses 14% in revenue from closing on Sunday, the math was stupid. The churchy chicken chain earns more per restaurant than any other fast food joint.
Closed on Sunday drives a volume of sales on Saturday and Monday. The spike (from limited data) for Chick-fil-A’s sales is well above the expected baseline set by comparing competing restaurants. Consider shoutouts from the evangelical pulpits Chick-fil-A gets, and closing on Sunday is a marketing strategy, not a moral stance.
So why do some woke ads fail if every large company, including privately owned Chick-fil-A, is just in it for money? Because some ads are ineffective.
The first time I heard “get woke, go broke,” it was over a Gillette ad. The ad’s messaging missed any reasonable mark. It spoke neither to the primary buyers of the products nor the primary consumers.
As I’ve written before, the “look at your man” Old Spice ads were brilliant because they addressed women with a male significant other. At that time, at least, that demographic was the primary buyer of men’s toiletries.
The Gillette toxic masculinity ad started by pivoting the established company slogan, asking, “Is this the best a man can get?” Saying “the best a man can get” is a statement about product quality. The other is asking, “can’t men be better?”
It reminded me of the Globo Gym ad from the film Dodgeball. “Tired of being overweight and under attractive?” Come out to the gym, you useless waste of human flesh. Generally speaking, shaming people doesn’t drive sales.
If the Gillette ad used the same opener about toxic masculinity, switching to a montage of clips of Fred Rogers, Jim Henson, Steve Irwin, and LeVar Burton, ending with “the best a man can get” tagline, the ad would have been more effective. The ad was just bad.
Disclosures: Via agencies and production companies, Mason Pelt worked with Bud Light (Graphics for Bud Light Bands) in 2012 and Gillette (YouTube Channel Management) in 2013-14.