For Brands, Bullying Is Just Another Tool to Boost the Bottom LineCarolyn Castiglia
Any parent – or even any casual observer of American culture, for that matter – knows that bullying is a major problem in U.S. schools. From classic schoolyard fights to the brave new world of online humiliation, 47 percent of girls and 34 percent of boys aged 12-17 say they’ve been tormented by their peers in some way, according to a survey quoted in The New York Times. Anti-bullying campaigns have increased in popularity over the years as a result, and it seems many major brands have taken notice — even brands that have previously made offensive remarks about consumers.
Times reporter Andrew Adam Newman writes, “prominent cases of teenagers committing suicide after being harassed on social media networks have, along with strengthening the resolve of antibullying organizations, prompted brands to take up the issue.” Brands like Green Giant, with their campaign Raise a Giant, or Secret’s Mean Stinks campaign, that, yes, features an accompanying deodorant and body spray scent called Fearlessly Fresh. On the 23rd of this month, Secret is sponsoring the Biggest.Assembly.Ever, starring Zendaya from Disney Channel’s “Shake It Up,” who will share her own story about bullying with students nationwide. The Times adds that “In August, Secret announced that it had teamed with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to develop antibullying curriculum materials to be distributed free to schools.”
It may seem cynical to suggest that such altruistic deeds are about increasing profits, but Secret reps openly admit that marketing and creating brand affinity are the driving forces behind these campaigns and events. Notes the Times, “Maria Burquest, a P.& G. spokeswoman, said that along with being philanthropic, helping teenagers address bullying has benefited the brand. ‘The overall business has been stronger for the last several years in this age group, and we feel that a platform like this helps with building overall brand equity,’ Ms. Burquest said.”
She’s right. “According to an annual study by the Edelman public relations agency, when quality and price were equal, 53 percent of consumers ranked a brand’s purpose-driven activities as a deciding purchasing factor in 2012, up from 42 percent in 2008,” Newman reports. Other brands that are employing this same strategy include Office Depot, Sears and Abercrombie & Fitch. The controversial clothing retailer “plans to fight bullying by doing what it does best making T-shirts,” says Columbus Business First.
They report, “Abercrombie is teaming up with No Bully, a nonprofit group that works to curb bullying in schools. It’s beginning a series of 20 conferences in schools around the country Thursday.” A&F’s anti-bullying graphic tees say things like “Bros Before Bullies,” a play on the popular phrase, “Bros Before Hos.” Because sexist and cruel remarks that relegate women to nothing but sexual trash are a great basis on which to build understanding and mutual respect.
Columbus Business First reporter Dan Upham notes that Abercrombie’s “anti-bullying push comes in response to public uproar earlier this year after comments CEO Mike Jeffries made in a 7-year-old interview caught new life in social media.” (In case you missed it, he doesn’t like fat and/or unattractive people.) When pressed by social media backlash, Jeffries said, “We are completely opposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterizations or other anti-social behavior based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics,” but Abercrombie still doesn’t sell women’s clothing in any sizes bigger than large.