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Brands take a Stand: Social Justice Goes Viral

Recently, a video titled “Whistling at Your Mom” has been making the social rounds.

Yes, you read that right. And no, they’re not talking an innocent tune.

In the Spanish-language video, a woman representing boxing gear and sports apparel brand Everlast goes on a quest to eliminate sex offenders in Peru, starting with street harassers:

“7 out of 10 women are sexually harassed in the streets of Lima, Peru. Men who do it think it’s a minor offense. Let’s show them that they are wrong.”

The woman and a crew of helpers identify two men as chronic street harassers, then convince the men’s mothers to dress up in disguise and walk past their sons under the watchful gaze of hidden cameras. When their sons inevitably catcall them, the mothers unleash a can of whoop ass worthy of an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. One even smacks her son repeatedly with her purse, and every blow is as satisfying to watch as the last:

The video ends with a call to action to visit a website for more information and this warning:

“If you harass women don’t wait for us to get you to harass your own mother before you start respecting them. More than 10 million Peruvian women are harassed. Share this video so this message gets to all the stalkers around you.”

Is this real life?

Well, not exactly. Everlast collaborated with a Latin American civic organization called Paremos el Acoso Callejero (“Stop Street Harassment”) to produce the video as part of a wider awareness campaign, but the people involved were actors and the interactions were dramatized.

In other words: the video was staged, but the message was real.

Going viral for good

The video was posted on Everlast’s Peruvian YouTube channel in late 2014, but a version with English subtitles released last week by MetaSpoon has now made it wildly popular in North America. With more than five million views on Everlast Perú and nearly three million views on MetaSpoon, it’s safe to say this video was a global viral success.

I could hold it up as an example of excellent social media marketing for other brands to follow, but that’s not what I find remarkable about the campaign. What I find remarkable is that a large international corporation such as Everlast is actually taking a public stance about a social issue. And they’re not alone — brands today are lining up to pick a side in the overall fight for better.

Social justice is more on-trend than ever

Time was when the most controversial a brand would get was a vague plug in support of sustainability. In campaigns that cast themselves as heroes, brands would humblebrag about the steps they’d taken to reduce carbon emissions, source fair trade, or go organic. Picture hyper-saturated scenes of ice blue waters, damp deeply green forests, and gently waving golden fields of grain interspersed with smiling children, devoted scientists, and dedicated employees. You know, something along the lines of this humorous Generic Brand Video:

Don’t get me wrong, this kind of bland feel-good marketing is far from dead. But slowly, we’re seeing companies tackle harder, uncomfortable topics such as gender inequality, civil rights, even climate change — topics that remain highly divisive in politics, culture, and society. For example, just last year we saw several brands such as Apple, Facebook, Nike, Levi Strauss, Jet Blue, and Marriott International speak out in support of same-sex marriage.

But why? Why would businesses take sides on social issues and risk losing customers who don’t agree with them? Why wouldn’t they just play it safe, keeping their mouths shut and their opinions to themselves?

Voting with our dollars

The answer has as much to do with social tone as it does shrewd marketing. Over the last several years we’ve gradually moved away from the inert cynicism of the ’90s toward active optimism. We believe, more and more, that we can help effect change in the world starting at the individual level.

And with that rising belief has come a call to “vote with our dollars” — that is, to choose to buy from companies whose political, social, and economic belief systems seem to represent our own. We watched this in action recently with Chick-fil-A and again with Hobby Lobby, when each brand took a public stance on a hot-button issue. While some customers lined up in support, gladly filling cash registers with even more of their money, others went on strike, vowing to never visit their formerly-favorite stores again.

Protestors line up outside a Chick-fil-A in Memphis, Tennesee. Image source: Wikipedia

Marketing has always been about making customers believe their brand choices are about them. But companies are learning that it’s more important today to make a customer think their brand choices are impacting the greater world.

This has only just begun

The Everlast video against sexual harassment was only just the beginning. In 2015 we’re going to see a lot more brands hopping on the social justice bandwagon — and their customers will be more than happy to go along with them for the ride.

Are you willing to go out of your way to support brands that align themselves with the issues that are important to you? Let me know in the comments below.

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