Should Retailers and Brands Run Ads Promoting Social Causes?

January 21, 2008

American Apparel Rallies for Immigration Reform – 1/21/08



American Apparel has been running ads over the last month charging that the U.S.’s immigration policy “amounts to an apartheid system” and should be overhauled to create a legal path for undocumented workers to gain citizenship. 

 American Apparel certainly doesn’t skirt controversy. Many critics claim its ads featuring scantily clad young women are pornography. But Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel and himself an immigrant from Canada, said the issue reflects his personal ideals around freedom. And while other large companies privately lobby the government over various policies, he would rather be open about his position. 

Discussion Questions: Should retailers or consumer brands be coming out with ads promoting social causes? Are certain topics okay (e.g., fighting aids or breast cancer, environment) and others too divisive? Has American Apparel crossed the line in this case and what will this campaign mean to its business?

My post:

 The point is that American Apparel has a very clear vision which includes being controversial and outspoken.  This ad is congruent with that vision and their values.  Therefore, the ad is appropriate.   

I do not think that most brands would do well with stepping out boldly on social and political issues.  Not because it is inappropriate for companies to get involved in such discussions, but rather because it would not be congruent with most companies’ vision and values. The most important thing a company does is define itself: purpose, vision, mission and values.  Every day in every way companies must behave in accordance with their true selves or risk confusing and alienating employees and customers alike.  Whether we agree with American Apparel’s positions or not, I think we can agree that their behaviors are consistent and congruent with their values.  Good for them. 

Mike Osorio, your Dare to be Contagious! Strategist