From Kendall Jenner to Gillette: A brief history of the “socially-conscious commercial”

Gillette are far from the first company to tackle on issues that matter through their commercials.

January 16, 2019

When it comes to advertising, we’ve come a long way from “Can You Hear Me Now?” Many of today’s commercials have traded in the catchy slogan for a reflection of the socially-charged times we currently find ourselves in, for better or worse.

One need look no further than Gillette’s #MeToo-driven ad that dropped this week and the handful of reactions it quickly provoked. Gillette aren’t the first to use their brand to take on the issues that matter, though—just the latest in a trend that’s only increased in steam this decade. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most notable socially-conscious ads from the last couple of years, including the good, the bad, and the Pepsi.

Dove—Real Beauty Sketches

In 2013, Dove broke the Internet with their “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign. Though championing inner beauty had always been at the center of the brand’s essence, their massively popular ad saw the company articulating this message in a relatable and virally-minded way that would change the relationship between advertising and social responsibility in advertising in ways that continue to resonate today.

Vogue India – #StartWithTheBoys

Gillette’s questioning of masculinity has obviously struck a nerve in today’s cultural landscape, but they’re far form the first to do it. Enter this ad from 2014 for Vogue India, which offers a look at how males are conditioned throughout their lives to to act within a certain set of gendered parameters – and the devastating consequences of it.

Pepsi —That Kendal Jenner Commercial

Our need for socially conscious messages only increased following Trump’s election and the divisive cultural environment it spurned. Unfortunately for Pepsi, their vision of everyone banding together and fighting the oppression of the Reality TV Star’s Presidency with, uh, another reality TV star (Kendal Jenner) co-opting Black Lives Matter imagery fell flat as an old soda.

Heineken – Open Your World

Despite using U.K. subjects, Heineken’s “Open Your World” campaign is very much a product of the Post-Trump cultural divide. The social experiment offers a dubious vision of reality where it apparently doesn’t matter if you find yourself on the racist or pro-union side of the political spectrum, we can all be united in our love of beer. Okay, sure.

Lynx –is it okay for guys…

Another Gillette precursor, this ad for the British analogue for AXE (remember AXE? I don’t want to either) features a number of young men questioning the values of the patriarchy and how it informs their actions. Though lacking the rawness of Vogue and specificity of Gillette, it’s commendable for the brand to take on the very idea of bro-ness that often exists at the center of a stinky cloud of their own product.

Always – #LikeAGirl

Puberty is obviously terrifying, doubly so for young girls. Always continued their focus on female empowerment with their “#LikeAGirl” campaign, which appealed to the intensity associated with such a stage in one’s life by letting those going through it know that everything’s gonna be okay – in fact, they’re are only gonna get better.

TV2 – All That We Share

Denmark’s TV2 took Heineken’s attempt at a vision of universal relatability and made it more, well, relatable by relying on real people instead of caricatures to show that no matter who we might think we are, at the end of the day we’re all just human.

Nike – Dream Crazy

Nike’s choice to make Colin Kaepernick the face of the brand’s “Dream Crazy” campaign last summer was a Dove-like event in terms of its influence on the role of social issues in advertising. It showed that taking a hard stance on a real-stakes issue—previously a pretty big brand no-no, as seen by the relative fluff of some of these prior ads—is actually just what we need right now.

Burger King – Bullying Jr.

Who knew a Whopper could hit you so hard in the feels? Burger King’s anti-bullying ad from last year, though at times hard to watch, not only captures the brutality of the issue, but reflects the hard-to-swallow reality of how much we as bystanders allow it to proliferate.

Gillette – The Best A Man Can Be

You’ve already seen it. At least, you’ve most definitely already heard about it – good or bad. Gillette’s take on the toxic masculinity of today – which, unlike the other similar ads in this list, adds to the punch by weaving in real-life evidence of patriarchal failure – has provoked an immediate, visceral reaction. The insane dislike ratio on the video, however, suggests an aversion to accountability that’s not only proof of just how much further we still need to go when it comes to these issues, but of why we need to hear these kinds of messages right now – as hard as they can be to swallow.

Exclusive videos, interviews, contests & more.

sign up for the a.side newsletter

sign up