How Brands are Exploiting Outrage Culture (Woke Advertising)


Is outrage culture killing brands like Nike, Coke, and Gillette?

In this video, I explore the trend of woke advertising. We see how brands leverage outrage culture to sell you stuff through their marketing strategy.

Imagine your business getting millions of views and shares because you decided to take a controversial stance within your niche?

See which strategies these woke advertising campaigns use so you can implement it in your own digital marketing efforts.

What We Covered


Perhaps nothing is more American than profiteering on outreach. Would you buy Corn Flakes over Lucky Charms if they were pro gun?

How about a premium three piece business suit from an antiabortion fashion brand? It might sound outrageous to buy things off a company stance on social issues, but it’s not far from the type of advertising that’s been trending recently. 

Whether you care about pro choice or pro life, pro gun or anti gun or even identity politics, brands have discovered a new way to leverage these controversial social issues and get you to open your wallets and your mouth. 

My name is Christian Martin and today we’re going to look at a new trend in today’s marketing world called woke advertising or wokenomics. It might be a silly name, but it rolls off the tongue easier than outrage-based market profiteering. 

In this video, we’re going to break down why running a woke ad campaigns can be worth the risk, how it can completely fail and what we can learn from it as marketers, let’s dive in.

Marketers, brands and businesses can hijack almost anything for their own personal gain. 

With the rise of outrage culture where people take to social media to be angry about just about anything, Marketers have found a way to take over these conversations and build brand awareness. 

Of course they have. Welcome to woke advertising. Woke advertising is when companies and brands align with your stance on social issues to get you to buy from them and aligned with their brand over the competition. 

Pretty Dirty, Huh? In theory, there’s nothing wrong with spreading a positive message in order to sell stuff right? Or wrong. 

Let me explain. Once upon a time, ads were actually about the product and even light hearted. 

They were informative and each brand appeal to a very specific demographic or what we call a Customer Avatar. 

An avatar is simply a fictional representation of your brand’s ideal customer.

This usually includes things like their goals and values. Where do they get their news, what magazines they read, and the demographics of your customer. 

Things like age, location, gender, occupation, the usual. We also want to look at their challenges and their pain points. 

Then we’re going to look at objections and their roles in society. So for example, Windex might create ads aimed towards stay at home Moms who watch daytime television and have a problem removing streaks off their mirrors. 

You’ll find Mr Clean, Lysol, and similar cleaning products targeting the same Customer Avatar. 

Or how about typical ads for dudes who would most likely enjoy a Carl’s Jr $13 Burger ads starting the beautiful Kate Upton eye-humping you as she gets messy downing a Southwest Patty Melt. 

To be honest with you, I’d buy a $75 burger with ketchup and glass shards if I thought it would get Kate Upton to pop out of a car and eye-hump me.

But as the audience begins to see the same style of ad thousands of times, they get a form of banner blindness where mental opt out or they subconsciously tune these ads out. 

I’m sure you can relate and eventually people stopped watching the ants. Eric Silver, Mccann’s North American chief creative officer says: advertising is what happens on TV when people go to the bathroom. 

Brands had to find a way to get people to stay during commercial and not just use it to throw another set of pizza rolls in the oven. 

After getting hip to consumers ignoring them, Brands became more experimental with their commercials. 

Brands like old spice, squatty potty and poo-pourri set a new standard for unexpected and absurdist style advertising. 

These ads were fresh, They were funny and they were aware. They kept you engaged throughout the commercial. But as more and more brands start using the same style of ads, we begin to see the same pattern of mental opt out.

So sure, seeing a unicorn poop out froyo grabs our attention today. But if more and more companies start using animals pooping out rainbows to shock you, I shutter to think of what will be necessary to get viewers to say, wow, did they really just show that? 

Let’s go back to 2014 when something really bizarre happened. Coca Cola came out with an ad during the Super Bowl that’s sparked more controversy than expected. 

The ad starts with the song: America the Beautiful. As the song continues, it’s sung in other languages like Spanish, Mandarin, and Hindi. 

The ad showed vignettes of multicultural families gathering for dinner, Kids in all of the outdoors surrounding their campsite or a group of friends enjoying street food. It’s actually really typical of coke to create these kinds of ads. 

They can be traced back to their famous 1971 ad depicting a multicultural America enjoying a crisp bottle of coke. 

But 1971 was a far different America than 2014. the age of social media polarizing our political beliefs changed the landscape on how Americans consume and react to media.

So Coke’s ad meant to share our similarities and values was now being seen as anti-American and pro immigration. 

It was being seen as taking a social stance. So #boycottcoke #speakAmerican begin trending as a form of backlash protest– shaking my head. But did the boycott work? Are people ready to dump their 24 pack of coke straight down the sink and announced Pepsi as the number one preferred brand over coke? 

Because coke misalign themselves with what these people would call the liberal snowflakes. No coke stock has been as strong as ever since that ad aired and the boycott ultimately fizzled out. 

So what does this mean for advertising? By mere accident, Coke became the perfect case study of what is now considered woke advertising or wokevertising or woke economics or wokenonomics. 

However you want to label it, This has sparked a new trend to not just get people to watch your ad, but to make it go viral.

What used to be safe, boring, good valued messaging has now become fodder to dividing beliefs in America. 

And of course, advertisers are capitalizing on this opportunity. Nothing is more American than profiteering on outrage. 

Marketers found now that if you truly want to stand out with your ads, you need to do two important things. 

Number one is you have to spark conversation. And number two is you have to be controversial and polarize it. 

Seeing the major success that coke received from this ad in 2017 Pepsi’s set out to use the same formula. 

Now during this time, the black lives matter and all lives matter protests we’re trending nationwide. 

Pepsi decided to co-opt this issue by showing imagery of young attractive protesters on the streets smiling and high fiving each other. It was meant to be inclusive like the coke commercial. 

It was multicultural in its feeling, but also American at the same time.

Protestors held signs with nonspecific messaging like join the conversation and peace sign. 

Now, they didn’t blatantly say black lives matter in the ad, otherwise it would have been too specific. 

Pepsi kept it safe, but borrowed the imagery from the protest to allude to the real life protest and of course it wouldn’t be a Pepsi commercial without a popular celebrity. 

So they had Kendall Jenner in the ad as well. Now they could have used Caitlyn Jenner, but they probably didn’t want to go too nuts, no pun intended.

The climax of the commercial showed Kendall Jenner walking up to a barricade of anti riot cops and sharing a can of ice cold unity-filled Pepsi and then a pause. We see the faces of the protesters with bated breath. 

As we hear that, La-Chingg~! sound of an opened Pepsi can. The cops drink the nectar of peace. Everyone cheers.

The protesters, the cops, everyone is United. America! USA! What’s the message? Buy Pepsi. Easy, right? 

I’m sure that the executives were patting themselves on the back for This one, it had everything a woke advertisement could need. 

How could it go wrong? It went very wrong. Pepsi received immense outrage for this commercial. 

They were accused of being tone deaf to the reality of the protest. Even Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr spoke out against what Pepsi was doing. She posted a picture on Twitter with the captions: If only daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi. 

The Ad itself has 13 million views and 165,000 dislikes versus 43,000 likes. People seriously hated this app and with this much outrage, Pepsi surely lost market share in the good graces of its consumers, but wait a second, it didn’t, which genuinely shocked me. Pepsi’s brand image actually improved and their stock price was unaffected.

After the ad was aired, Morning Consult, a data and survey research company surveyed over 2000 adults regarding the polarizing Pepsi ad. Specifically 44% surveyed saw the brand in a more favorable light versus 20% who didn’t seem to care and about 25% thought more negatively of the soft drink giant. 

The ad also resonated equally well with African Americans with 51% saying it paints Pepsi in a more favorable light. 

Despite of the accusations that Pepsi’s commercials downplayed the black lives matter protests, Brand awareness just went up. 

Angry or not, Pepsi won. And this is the thing about wokenomics and the exploitation of social issues, ethical implications aside, maybe the saying there’s no such thing as bad publicity is actually true. 

Last year, Pepsi took that same blueprint and released an ad showing a race riot for Jennifer Anniston throws a can of Pepsi through a car window. No, I’m kidding.

They didn’t do that. I wanted to make sure you’re paying attention. Taking the same approach as Pepsi. 

Nike created a campaign that seemed unassuming on the surface. In 2018 Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player, infamous for taking a knee during the national anthem would help commemorate the 30th anniversary of the brand’s Iconic slogan, just do it. 

Included in this campaign where Serena Williams and Odell Beckham Jr., Just to name a few. The ad is black and white and it’s a closeup of Kaepernick’s face with the words believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. 

This is a reference to Kaepernick’s lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly colluding to keep the former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback out of the league over his defiance during the national anthem to publicly protest against police brutality. 

The move struck a nerve erupting in a Twitterstorm of outrage. Even though Kaepernick’s protest was against police brutality,

many took this protest as disrespect to the u s military police officers and even the flag itself. Nike became public enemy number one as #boycottNike was trending all throughout the Internet. 

People were burning their Nike Shoes. There were literally destroying things they’ve already spent money on to make a point. It’s crazy. 

Now what’s even crazier is that Nike boycott actually affected Nike… By making them $6 billion. 

Way To go Nike haters, you fell for the ultimate trap. Why don’t you go take a knee? Every time a brand takes a stand, money is being made for better or worse. 

When you become outraged about a particular brand and broadcast it on social media, you become part of the advertising, you have successfully built reach and engagement for the brand and you’re strengthening the support of the brand’s position. It’s genius or it’s evil or both.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which one and it depends where you stand on the issue. Gillette did the same thing with their recent controversial ad campaign. 

They took a very strong stance against toxic masculinity despite the flood of negative comments on Youtube with commentors declaring “Guess who won’t buy your overpriced razors now? 

Their stock rose 6% after Joe Rogan and news outlets criticized the ad. I mean seriously, this video has 1.4 million dislikes on Youtube and the stock just keeps going up. 

I bring all these examples up because the rise of woke advertising is very real. “The woke business strategy will be a big theme in 2019 since that’s where the money is,” says Scott Galloway, founder of the business research firm Gartner L2 and a professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of business. 

More brands will definitely take a stab at woke advertising because many customers want to see strong stands on politically charged topics like race, immigration, LGBT rights, guns and the environment.

No longer are we just advertising to a demographic based on their gender, age, roles, society, how much money they make and where they’re located. 

Smart marketers are looking into their psychographics: what their values are, what they’re interested in, their characteristics, their personalities, what their lifestyle’s like and their stance on social issues. 

These new ads are saying, my brand has a message and we have an actual stance on issues affecting your country. 

If you share a stance, buy our stuff. How these new ads actually work is basically: my brand has a message and we have an actual stance on issues affecting America. 

If you share a stance, share it with support or share with disgust, either way, get our name out there. It doesn’t matter to us. 

Like all things advertising, this trend will eventually become overplayed, but in 2019 it looks like it’s here to stay.

So remember to use Wokenomics or Woke advertising, Co-opt a controversial issue that aligns with your brand and spark conversation around it. Just be ready for the backlash if you’re doing it just for the attention. 

If you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying and your commandeering and important social issue for personal or brand gain, expect an outpouring of disgust from the public. 

Unfortunately, this might not actually be bad for sales in today’s current outrage culture. Next time you see an ad that offends you or doesn’t align with your belief system, what’s the best way to show your disgust? 

Do Nothing. Remember that! That will show them. So what do you think about woke advertising? 

As you can tell, I have mixed feelings about it. I’m curious to know your opinion: is an exploitative to the real issues? Are you for it? Are you against it?

Is there real merit for brands to take a stance on these issues? Are they relevant in brand conversations? 

Who does it right and who should be condemned? If you want to learn more about how to build a brand, create effective social media ads and experiment with Woke advertising. 

Check out my free training in the description below. I’m Christian Martin, this has been my take on woke advertising. 

Hit the like button. Subscribe down below for more marketing breakdowns like this one, or if you think this was offensive and my message is off base. 

Let everyone know by sharing with all your friends. Thanks for watching. I will see you next time.


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