So: Do “Woke” Ads Work?


So: Do “Woke” Ads Work?

They’re inevitable, so we might as well chat about it.

By James Royce


Hello, got a question for you: have you gone full rage after seeing an advertisement? Not because it was lousy or poorly shot or just, you know, bad. No, not like that. Rather: because the message was a bit much? It brought up a polarizing topic you, the consumer, think corporations and brands should really just gloss over? Or maybe it brought up a negative aspect of society. A human shortcoming even. Those sorts of things. 

Doesn’t really happen, no. Not at all. Very rare you watch or read something and mutter to yourself: Absolutely fuck this, fuck no. Especially if you’re a pretty easy-going, open-minded, caring person. Which brings us to the conservative crowd, who aren’t any of these things and never can stop. 

Yes, turns out that the, “Please keep your politics out of my capitalism,” bunch can’t stop yelling at their TVs. Odd behavior no doubt. But I think this is possibly the point where we (me.) have to admit that two-odd years ago our country undertook a vote to send us all impossibly, irreparably mad. Mad beyond belief. And it has affected all of us, and this is just the natural progression of things. Genuinely remember going to bed on the night of the 2016 election cheerfully thinking, “It's fine, who's going to vote for the yelling man for absolutely no reason at all?” And now here I am, two and a half of the longest years in history later, reading web articles about “Drew, from Celina, Ohio.” Drew, who shot actual bullets at his Gillette razor away because they ran an ad asking men to be more respectful. How did it come to this.

Well, it came to this because the world’s largest consumer-driven country sent itself into political chaos. And no, it’s no longer good enough for a brand or organization to have only a mission statement. They must have a purpose. In fact, according to a study, “two-thirds of consumers (66%) say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues.” In a very real sense of the term, it’s time for every faceless corporate entity to get with the times. And that is really some shaky ground for a lot of brands to navigate.

So anyway, here’s how we’ll proceed here: I’m going to list a bunch of “controversial” advertisements from the past year or so. Then I’m going to tell you what both the message and general response was. Then I'm going to tell you if the message "worked." Hit you with sales numbers. Facts, figures. Dollar signs. After that I'm going to rank how outraged The Furious Lads got from it using a special system I created just for this article. Once all that's done we'll figure out if brands getting political is, well, a good thing. Anyway, let's dive in to it:


What’s this brand? Patagonia. The go-to for serious, actual outdoor types. Also the favorite of braying rich kids who don’t go outside other than to pose for photos in some forest with their family over the holidays. Very, “Hello, is that Karen? It is? Great. Well, we’ve got a bit of a problem. Your husband’s here at the brewery and he seems to think he John Muir. He’s got cargo pants and a fleece on that is three sizes too small for him and he keeps knocking drinks over with a hiking pole. Is there any way you could pop in? He’s just put John Denver on the jukebox and won’t shut up about your holiday to Wyoming.”  

And what’s the ad in question? A big banner ad on their main site that said: The President Stole Your Land. A response to Trump’s plan to roll back protections on two national monuments in Utah. This message was followed by details of the parks in question and links to take action. This, plus the details of a lawsuit Patagonia was using to sue the Trump administration.

Did this upset some people? No. It’s obvious Patagonia has always been bang into the environment. No surprises here.   

What happened afterward? People said: I’m about to buy myself some fleece. And by that I mean Patagonia’s external web sales were six times higher than a typical day. According to sales data from Slice Intelligence, a company that measures these things, sales remained strong. In fact, they were seven percent stronger the week of the statement than they were the previous week. And that previous week included Cyber Monday. Nice.

Suburban dad outrage meter: At once both zero and one. Like he wore the wrong shoes to the Grand Canyon but isn’t all too bothered by the discomfort because he’s too busy taking in the amazing views. Yeah, so, 0.5 dads out of 5 dads.  



What’s this brand? Gillette, who sell: three, small sharpened pieces of metal to you for about $10 a pop. They also sell deodorant either by a single stick or packs of 60 and there is no in-between. 

And what’s the ad in question? A two-minute ad promoting the ideals of the #MeToo movement. Sexual harassment. Bullying. Failure to treat women with respect in the workplace. Gillette’s ad asked viewers to think of all this and other cultural issues. Then it told them it’s time to change things. In short, the “boys will be boys” blanket excusal for abhorrent behavior won’t cut it anymore. The commercial wasn’t pure marketing, either. Gillette pledged to donate $3 million over the next three years to nonprofits starting with the Boys and Girls Club of America.


Did this upset some people? Because it’s 2019, absolutely. There was a shockwave of anger. Loads of praise, too. But, yeah, the conservatives and men’s rights activists lost their collective minds. On Youtube, the commercial’s already been downvoted almost 330,000 times. Compare that to the relatively meager 74,000 upvotes. Some organizations, like a Voice for Men, which is a “male supremacy” organization (and actually classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center yikes), even took action. Urging supporters to boycott the grooming brand.


Sidebar, for sure, but when was the last time you took a train or the metro? If recent, you know most people on public transport in the morning have the good grace to smell like a fresh shower and deodorant. But there's always one dude who smelled himself before leaving and went, “I mean, I smell like a wet pair of jeans. But I reckon I'll be okay. Oh, I'll only just get sweaty again. There is no point having a full shower, I'll just rinse my dick 'n' pits,” and that person is essentially a terrorist, as far as I am concerned, an odor terrorist. Now imagine this person is also telling everyone around him the reason he smelled so bad was because hetossed away all his deodorant. Like it’s a valid excuse. “Couldn’t do it after that Gillette ad!" he says. "Can’t believe they want to emasculate men like that! Unbelievable. You know, Tucker Carlson was saying…” If you overheard someone say something along those lines you’d think they were an idiot. An actual idiot. Ten IQ points short of a regular moron. You'd have to get off the train as quick as you could. Leave on the next stop even if it's not even remotely close to your work. Leave the sweaty, halfwit beacon in the crowd behind. Which is fine, because he’ll stay crammed on bench seat sitting between four other people like he always is.

What happened afterward? Sales stayed in a straight line but execs called the campaign a massive success. Loads of pats on the back in the boardroom, it seems. 

Divorced, suburban dad outrage meter: Three dads out of five dads. Which is a massive jump from last time. We’ve hit son-decided-to-drop-out-of-business-school-for-an-arts-degree levels now.


What’s this brand? Not Adidas.

And what’s the ad in question? A two-minute ad titled: Dream Crazy. If you’re read this publication, you saw it. If you’re in need a refresher: remember that close up shot of Colin Kaepernick? “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” superimposed over his face? Little Nike swoosh and Just do it resting on the bottom border? Of course you do.  

Did this upset some people? The worst people on the planet are those with sincere criticisms about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. It's tough to argue against that statement. Fossil fuel lobbyists: yes, bad. Nazis: bad. Murderers: bad. A 37-year-old man with a hightop and a Blue Lives Matter shirt on: awful, terrible, one of if not the worst. Think: who would you rather be locked in a room with? Ted Bundy, who is very popular right now and who, oh, by the way, in this situation is back from the dead has been given loads of knives. Like, loads and loads. An immense amount of knives. And a big gun as well. For some reason we have armed Ted Bundy with an Uzi. So Ted, or a lad called Dale who keeps showing you videos of his family celebrating the Patriots' last Super Bowl? Answer honestly.

Right, now imagine these sorts of people dominating an entire US news cycle. People cutting logos off their socks. Dads burning $160 running shoes in their driveway. Twitter blots blasting hashtag Fuck Kaepernick all over the dark recesses of Twitter. Absolute chaos, all of it.

What happened afterward? According to CBS, Nike’s stock saw a five person increase following the ad’s release. That’s about a $6 billion increase in overall value. 

Divorced, suburban dad outrage meter: A full five out of five dads. White-hot rage you’ll only see if you leave all the lights in the house on or if Idris Elba gets cast as James Bond.


Yeah, progressive marketing works. Yes, run with a strong, positive message and you’ll make more money. Sure, today’s divisive social and political climate is tricky.

The thing is, though, consumers like this. They’re responsive to it. As mentioned in the intro, 66% of consumers say it’s important for brands to take stands on social and political issues. If you need any more proof, just flip through this survey which I linked in the opening paragraph. In fact, you could have just read that in the beginning and called it a day. Skipped all this nonsense. But there’s no fun in reading a bunch of numbers now, is there? 

Take risks, pick up rewards. It’s the same song and dance just a different venue. As long as you don’t make another “Pepsi solves racism using a Jenner” you’re good. I mean who approved that, that advert. Who looked at that and went: “Now this…this is good. This doesn't make a good cause appear trivial. A supermodel hands a raging policeman a Pepsi and decades of systematic racism is reversed. This works.” Hilarious to think that went through drafts and redrafts and endless edits. And yet nobody went: hey, maybe no. Nope, it just went all over the internet instead. 

Anyway, don’t do that.