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Are brands finally making a move on “Brand Caitlyn”?

Airbnb is cozying up to Caitlyn Jenner with a new ad spot featuring a “trans-friendly” message that launched alongside Jenner’s appearance during last night’s The Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards presented by ESPN.

The Airbnb spot will carry its “Is Mankind?” campaign, and specifically ask viewers to “find out how kind the women, men and trans of our mankind can be.” The ad will be a twist on an earlier version launched this week (which also creeped some consumers out) featuring a voice-over by Angela Bassett and a baby walking toward a door.

With this latest marketing stunt, Airbnb seems to be one of the first brands to openly start show their support for Jenner. When the “Living with the Kardashians” star first stepped out in her new look, conversations were ablaze on both social media and offline. Surprisingly enough though, at that point, brands remained somewhat silent and distant on the entire matter. Presumably, companies did not want to come across as opportunistic. According to an article on Mashable, sources told the publication that Jenner wasn’t even at that point in the talks of an endorsement or sponsorship.

So are the tides finally about to turn? Are brands finally ready to let their guards down and involve Jenner in their game plan?

According to Lars Voedisch, principal consultant and managing director of PRecious Communications, while there is no right time to actually work or associate a brand with a controversial figure, it really is at the end of the day about how the brand wants to come across to its target audiences.

In such a case, backlash is almost expected and preempted by the brands. However, if this preempted backlash is not from the brand’s target audience, it will not actually affect sales and hence brands can take this “calculated and wanted risk”, explains Voedisch. This would be a perfect opportunity to propel the company to the forefront of conversations.

“Such a move will make a brand seem like a shaker as well as being forward thinking,” he said. Voedisch likens the stunt to that of Benetton, the Italian clothing retailers which created the line United Colors of Benetton, and brought to awareness of significant social issues such as civil and human rights issues to the fore.

Voedisch added that another question brands really need to address before just signing on or making an associations with a controversial figure is: Why exactly does the company want to be taking such a stance? Is it to gain exposure? Is it simply driven by top management or a marketing agency? Or is it something intrinsic to the company’s DNA?

“Is this opportunistic?  Absolutely. Is it cynical band-wagoning?  Not so much,”Graham Drew, executive creative director of Grey KL said.

Drew added that it is the job of the communications industry and creative agencies to integrate clients into popular culture and in the best cases, create a new culture itself.  That often might mean making the brands’ agenda in sync with the news rooms agenda.

“But you have to tread carefully.  If your brand and the issue talked about don’t match, it will blow up and the world will let you know about it.  The social space is littered with examples of this – which is the main reason why brands have been so cautious around the news juggernaut that is Caitlyn,” Drew added.

He said that for Airbnb, the fit was right as the brand stands for equality and has also had a good track record with the LGBT community. Like Voedisch, he added that Airbnb will get first mover advantage with this move and will reap the rewards of that. While no doubt the ad will get some flak and get trolled, in the bigger game plan, it is a win, explained Drew.

“More than that, it’s hard to think of a more fitting central purpose for Brand Caitlyn than ‘Belong Anywhere’. Gender politics are at the peak of global culture right now and if done right, brands can play a huge role.”

(Photo courtesy: Caitlyn Jenner Instagram page)

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