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Published February 18th 2019

Interview: Michelle Goodall on Planning ‘Moral Marketing’ Campaigns

Michelle Goodall worked on one of the most famous moral marketing campaigns of the last 20 years. What’s her take on Gillette’s The Best Men Can Be campaign?

In the time Michelle and I have been corresponding, there’ve been big developments in the trend of purpose-driven campaigns, or ‘moral marketing’.

Most recently, Gillette’s The Best Men Can Be campaign ignited social streams with debate around toxic masculinity and the place of a household brand in aligning itself with a particular set of values.

Michelle worked on what I’d consider an OG purpose-driven marketing campaign when it launched back in 2004 – the Campaign for Real Beauty from Dove. In an industry that had been unashamedly presenting unattainable standards of beauty as the norm, Dove launched a wide-ranging campaign that encouraged all women to feel beautiful. You can watch a mini-documentary on it here:

Given her experience and the success of the Dove campaign, I was keen to get Michelle’s take on Gillette’s foray into the moral marketing landscape. She took me through the steps her PR agency Lexis took in preparation for the Campaign for Real Beauty.

Predicting the backlash

“As a PR agency who were involved in this we had to really start to unpick what the nature of the debate might be and potentially what could go wrong when you take a really strong stance on something. We knew opinion would be polarized when traditionally the beauty industry used models, airbrushing, and felt like it was forcing a specific sense of beauty on consumers, particularly young consumers, over a long period of time.”

Michelle doesn’t think Dove is alone in doing this kind of calculation. “They’ve all done their sums. With Nike, a few hundred really angry sneaker burners are going to be far outweighed by a younger, more liberal thinking consumer and they would have mapped that out. They would have looked at the financial implications of potentially riling a few audiences.”

“I think it’s difficult territory,” she says on taking bold stances. “And this is where the role of really good communications professionals can come in. We can unpick this from many different angles and think about what the structure of this kind of campaign might look like, where the attacks might come from, how to mitigate against those risks.”

Navigating complex audiences

The world feels more complicated than it once did, especially with the potential for marketing campaigns to reach more people than ever before. It’s not just the size of audiences, though – it’s diverse audiences with different potential reactions that creates a challenge for brands looking to align with certain causes.

“In today’s marketing communications, there’s no longer a homogenous audience for these big consumer brands. It’s a highly diverse, very nuanced group of consumers and individuals,” she says.

Scoping out where your brand fits, what’s important, and how that crosses over with your customers’ preferences isn’t easy, but that’s where brands can find success. Michelle says:

“You’ve got to really figure out where your brand’s territory is, what’s credible and relevant to your consumers and your audiences and what’s valuable to them, but then you’ve got to back it up with something that’s credible and relevant to you and your brand and your brand values.”

Authenticity and foundation work

“If you’re a brand or organization that uses these purpose-led campaigns and if there are things that aren’t quite right, if you haven’t done that foundational work, then you are going to stoke that annoyance and backlash among certain groups of people,” says Michelle.

She cites paying taxes, treatment of staff, and gender parity as examples of the foundations a company ought to work on before opting to take a strong stance on moral and ethical issues. It’s important for them to lay the groundwork and to ‘walk the talk’.

When it came to Dove’s campaign, the team were very keen to bring in the voices of those who could be most affected by the campaign. They put a huge amount of effort and time into the research ahead of the launch to get all angles covered.

“With Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, we recognized at a very early stage that we’d have to involve people who were influential around self-esteem and build a long term community and approach. Charities, experts, academia, and those teaching girls in primary and secondary education were involved. We would need to get their thoughts, research and build upon the campaign. It was complex, nuanced and inclusive at a point where maybe it would have been easier for Dove to just launch it with an ad strapline.”

Whether Gillette’s laid the groundwork properly is up for debate, and Michelle suggests much more could have been done around toxic masculinity before the company launched the ad to create a recognizable and valid connection with the issue. That said, it doesn’t mean it can’t be a hit – and many signs show that’s just what it’s become.

Big thanks to Michelle for speaking with us. You can find her on LinkedIn here.

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