On Tuesday, February 12th, regarding the anniversary of the crime at the school in Parkland, in which a former student killed 17 students and teachers and wounded the same number, several hundred activists attended a rally on the stairs of the US Congress as a sign of support of the initiative to tighten the regulations for the purchase and possession of firearms in the United States, and above all, to introduce a general background check for anyone who wants it. The evening before, within the same initiative, a gathering “End Gun Violence Together“ was held, in which, in addition to a number of leaders of various organizations and associations dealing with this topic, including Yolanda Renee King, who is granddaughter of Martin Luther King, some public figures, celebrities, including politicians, musicians and actors attended and spoke in this event.
This news wouldn’t be so interesting if the organizer of this rally wasn’t a company. Therefore, the gathering wasn’t organized by a political party, a citizen association, a non-governmental organization or someone like that, but a legal entity whose primary goals and interests are gaining profit. The logical question is why would a company do this.
In this very case, it is about company TOMS, founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie, which had social activism embedded in the brand itself, from the very beginning, since the time it only sold shoes. TOMS is globally recognized through its slogan “one-for-one” which is actually the company’s promise that, by purchasing any of their products, the customer donates a certain product to someone in the world who needs it. With this campaign now, TOMS has raised its social activism to a higher level.
Let’s say something about the nature of the action itself first. One of the current social issues in the United States is the problem of liberal regulations governing the right to purchase and possess firearms. TOMS has invited its buyers to fill a form personally, prepared on the company’s website with a request to start up and support an initiative to tighten laws and acts regulating this area. Each of these individual requests was then printed and sent to the address of a relevant representative in the Congress from the sender’s district in the form of the postcard. At the same time, at the beginning of the campaign they announced from the company that they would organize a gathering in Washington.
During a couple of months of the campaign, more than 750,000 of these postcards were sent, and the journey to Washington started on January 23rd from Los Angeles, where TOMS is headquartered. There were also stopping points in Las Vegas, Chicago, Denver, Columbus and Pittsburgh
There is no doubt that TOMS and Blake Mycoskie have successfully completed this campaign with the gathering in Washington. They have made their contribution to raising awareness that legislation in this field has to change. All associations, foundations and non-governmental organizations that were partners with TOMS in this project can only be satisfied, as they gained the attention they could have never gained themselves due to the brand’s strength. Politicians who received postcard can also be satisfied as they, naturally, promised that they would “pledge to take all necessary measures in order to take the vital steps to launch actions that would blah-blah-blah…”
And after all, what kind of epilogue can we expect? This remains to be seen, but it is certain that this campaign has provided support to all those who advocate resolving this problem in America. And that’s good news. But, let’s go back to the above question why would a company deal with such an issue. The answer to this question isn’t complicated. First of all, with such a campaign, the brand that is related to the subject itself becomes more visible and recognizable. Secondly, all those who recognize their standpoint in a particular social topic that a brand brings about, feel more committed to the brand itself, and they desire to buy a product of that brand, which is much more than any of the standard commercials can achieve. In this case, this feeling is additionally encouraged by the invitation that anyone can support the campaign, acting only by sending a postcard, which develops the sense of belonging even more and the initiative itself grows into a movement. Thirdly, anyone who recognizes oneself in this topic becomes a media channel which shares that content as a participant, and not just as an observer.
So, this is how we came to TOMS after Nike and Gillette campaigns. Whatever the epilogue of this last mentioned initiative was, this campaign is just another proof of the depth and divergence of social changes that have happened due to the change of the framed media context within which we live and communicate today. More and more global branding campaigns are associated with controversial social issues as they attract attention that can’t be sufficiently provided anymore through traditional media buying strategy.
Therefore, there should be no doubt that there will be more and more initiatives in which capital, carried by its interest in increasing profits, will trigger socially sensitive and crucial topics. It’s not a bad thing by its nature. After all, companies are also part of the social structure and it is good that they develop social responsibility. But, we must be aware that they will choose themes motivated by their own interests, not only by social welfare. And this is completely legitimate.
The problem is on the other side, and it is reflected in the fact that the political sphere is privatized, advocating partial interest for capital thus undermining public interest. In order to conceal this reality, the main goal of politicians is to be liked by as many people as possible, playing safe by choosing commonplaces or populist topics that will easily gather their tribe or nation around them.
As business is increasingly concerned with social and political issues, and politics is becoming more and more the part of the entertainment and reality program sector, is this a new standard for “normal“ we are already adapting to? And is this new normality really something normal?