CAN BRANDS CELEBRATE WITHOUT EXPLOITING?

It was posted two weeks ago, but Microsoft Bing’s “Celebrating the Heroic Women of 2013” commercial really hit audiences on Sunday night during the Golden Globe Awards ceremony. Described by Bing as being about “Heroic women [who] show what spirit, courage, and perseverance can achieve. May their bravery inspire us in 2014 and beyond.” Simple enough. And yet, the commercial attracted immediate controversy. Take a look:

The ad is ultimately an ode to feminism featuring a variety of prominent women and celebrating their achievements (Malala Yousafzai, for instance, is “Who stood up to educate us all” and Gabrielle Giffords for “Getting back up to fight for others” underscored by the pop-track “Brave” by Sara Bareilles.

Admittedly, I love the commercial. I especially loved the commercial in context. The airing I saw was in the middle of an awards telecast hosted by two women (for the second time!), celebrating an industry that is historically, and still today, incredibly male-dominated. With all the commercials we see — new products, new shows, new movies, new this, new that, etc. — it was refreshing to see a commercial say something different, something positive – and oddly, something that really say anything.

The commercial worked almost as an adbuster (keeping your interest from navigating away during the commercial breaks)- starting on black and fading into a spot featuring highly treated stills and video – but kept with a theme that looked as if was something the Golden Globes produced. It begins on a black screen reading: “Celebrating the Women of 2013” with a modest Bing logo underneath and concludes with the same black page reading: “Honestly, we salute you …. Be Brave in 2014” – before transitioning into a black page featuring a Microsoft logo and an animated Bing URL. Much simpler than the words detail. No other voice-over, and no other branding throughout the spot.

But can this be a true celebration of women when it’s in the form of brand messaging? Did Bing, in an effort to target women, select a few high-profile and relevant subjects, add in a choice song (and it’s hard to fathom another song more accurately spelling out the message, right?) — air it in an awards ceremony dominated by women viewers and just hope that it stood alone as a moment of honest appreciation? Answer: probably not.

The added bit of controversy due to its inclusion of the late Margaret Thatcher who died last year as the UK’s longest-serving, and first and only female Prime Minister, and who they labeled as being a “trailblazer” – seemed to be enough to garner traction (even critically) to sustain the spot online, prompting articles like this one from Salon:

“Margaret Thatcher’s relationship with feminism was complicated at best,” Salon’s Daniel D’Addario wrote. “Isn’t putting her in conversation with the young Malala in an ad about the power of women a little ideologically muddled?”

So, is it possible for a brand to tell a real story without seeming disingenuous? Is anyone doing it right?

Ultimately, as I said – I still liked the spot. I’m probably not going to use Bing any more or less than I already do – but here I am, posting the video for all to see and potentially be influenced by. What do you think? Fan or not?

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2 thoughts on “CAN BRANDS CELEBRATE WITHOUT EXPLOITING?

  1. bernardoberndsen1 says:

    I think brands can be celebrated. While brands and corporations are trying to lead their targets to their products and services. They are also people behind those brands and corporations that share the same feelings you have.. And without the sponsorship we would have never seen this appreciation being shown. Yes it promotes Bing but is it so bad that Bing wants to be associated with strong and wonderful women? and to sponsor the idea that is “be brave?” In all, I think if brands are being genuine about their the message, yes but I do see your suspension. Great article!

    • essayem says:

      Thank you, Bernardo! I totally agree with your points – especially that there are people behind the brands! Granted, there are certainly times when it seems like brands have too many creative hands in the pot and produce spots that miss the mark (see Mountain Dew and Hyundai in 2013) – but for the most part, brands go out of their way to empathize with their respective audiences and this ad does just that. Ultimately, it looks like the ad had more positive reviews than negative, though I am curious what impact it had on their referring numbers.

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