Andrew MacKenzie, MD of Boomtown, states that there has been a lot of industry talk about the quality and standard of creativity delivered by brands and their creative partners – especially over the last five years. 

The truth is there have been the couple of standout pieces, generally aligned to a hot political story or a cultural nuance, but in general, we have seen a dip in the level of advertising. So what can we attribute it to? The question ‘is social media killing advertising?’ is very valid.

For the previous two months, two different campaigns, from entirely different categories, have been brutally criticised on social media. The first was the Gillette ‘We believe: the best men can be’ campaign. A campaign that challenged men to be better men. It encouraged us to stop being chauvinists, to stop bullying, to forget the macho facades; it challenged gender inequality in the workplace and asked us to hold each other to a higher standard, to be kinder, gentler, more humane. Social media went mad. The backlash was enormous, with men calling for a boycott of the brand. The YouTube video of the advert has had 29.5 million views to date, with more than 420,000 comments.

The number of likes stands at 777,000 with double the number of dislikes (1.4 million). On Twitter the debate got even more heated, with Piers Morgan, who is never far from controversy, declaring that he would no longer buy Gillette products and calling on society to let ‘boys be boys’. Yes, the advert used generic stereotypes, but how many adverts don’t? In truth, the message was ‘be a better man’. Treat all people with respect and humility, be kind and care, even if it’s just a little. I found the advert powerful, an emotional challenge to be a better man and a better role model for my son.

The second campaign was a bit closer to home. Woolworths’ Valentine’s Day campaign using lighthearted references to the male and female idiosyncrasies. The popular retailer has not been far from controversy over the last few years with product plagiarism claims, but I believe its Valentine’s Day campaign was unfairly crucified on social media. It was criticised to such an extent that it had to pull the campaign to avoid further fallout.

When did we become so sensitive to advertising? Perhaps social media offers a platform for anybody with an opinion to hide behind their black mirror and share it for others to latch onto and spread the poison. The bitterness, hatred and anger that it solicits is honestly nothing short of scary, and even more surprising is the sort of content that is attracting negativity.

The problem is that brands have become too scared to push the boundaries. Creative partners are finding it increasingly difficult to sell ideas that challenge consumers, campaigns that make a stand, campaigns that are different and courageous. Great campaigns that challenge stereotypes, conformity, that are brave, that push us into a slightly uncomfortable place. Ads that are memorable, that stand out.

Will we see campaigns that achieve this moving forward? Perhaps a better question to ask in the interest of optimism is: will we see brands and marketing managers being brave enough to take a stand for ideas and creativity that will leave a positive legacy?