Lean in. Unconscious bias. Women’s empowerment. Gender pay gap. Cultural conversations related to the female experience were bubbling for years before the Weinstein story broke, and have only intensified alongside the still-seething #metoo eruption.

Astute marketers have been shedding light on these topics for a while now (ex: My Black is Beautiful, Like a Girl, WomenNotObjects), and even as #metoo takes the conversation down a more serious path, a few brave brands have chosen to wade in.

The latest to catch my eye is Schweppes and Ogilvy Brazil’s Dress for Respect.

No time to watch? Here’s the gist:

–          Knowing that 86 percent of Brazilian women have been harassed in night clubs, Schweppes sent three women wearing dresses fitted with “touch sensors” out to clubs and made a video of how things played out.

–          In less than four hours, they were touched 157 times — over 40 times per hour.

–          Now, Schweppes is encouraging men to revisit their behavior and approach women in more respectful ways.

Why did this one strike me? We know most (two thirds, according to Sprout Social) people today want brands to take a stand on social issues, so it’s no surprise that marketers are aligning to #metoo. And, whether they do so subtly, or not so subtly, their intentions are generally good ones.

But, just because you want to align to social issues, should you? Is there a long-term strategic reason for doing so?

In chatting about this with my marketing peers, I’ve found reactions to Schweppes’ statement falling into two camps:

  1. Not sold –  Some questioned the execution (“How do those sensors work?” … “When you go to a night club, you expect to be touched”…”Is this saying every time I brush past a woman in a club, it’s sexual harassment?”), doubted the brand’s credibility (“What right does Schweppes have to surface an issue it’s actually contributing to by facilitating alcohol consumption in night clubs?” “Now that they’ve surfaced it, what role is Schweppes willing to play to solve it?”), or suspected its motives (“They’ve hijacked a serious societal issued for a marketing stunt.”).
  2. Yes to the dress. Others argued the spot was a positive undertaking that illuminated a new facet of a festering problem, held Schweppes customers accountable for their actions alongside the brand and promoted behavior change. (“One brand can’t change the world overnight, but you have to start somewhere, and they did.”) They saw a logical connection between Schweppes’ call to action and its “Character Required” tagline, and said brands are better off having strong, well-informed opinions than having no opinion at all (“You can’t make a difference by trying to make sure everyone’s happy.”).

The Schweppes story underscores that, yes, brands today are expected to engage in social issues with conviction. But…

Conviction without credibility is destined to backfire. Brands must be purposeful in what they choose to say and how they choose to say it.Click To Tweet

As my colleague Kim Blake wrote last month, brands planning to engage in social issues should adopt consistent criteria for evaluating the “fit” before choosing to act. Criteria should include:

–          Alignment with brand, values and company culture

–          Credibility in the space

–          Anticipated reactions from key audiences

–          Comfort with associated risks

And, please, before you go live with your own version of “the dress,” be sure you’re VERY ready to articulate your brand’s viewpoint and rationale for addressing said issue, and monitor audience reactions (in real time), respond, and pivot if needed.

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