Communication and advertising have always reflected our current times and have constantly evolved with them. Language, concepts, and images, it's all tightly connected with our present society. As communication experts, we believe we must address what's happening in our industry because times are changing. And fast!
Let's take nicotine advertising, for example. Not even sixty years ago, we would spot cigarette ads promoting what was believed to be a trendy product. Today, we find pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packets warning us about the many risks of smoking. The reason is that, as time passed, smoking was recognised as a harmful activity to encourage, resulting in the banning of all related communications.
It's 2022, and now we’re dealing with different issues. They're called social justice issues, and for every issue, there's a movement that supports it and fights for it: human rights, equality, inclusivity, and climate change.
The impact of Social Justice Movements on communication
The first question is: how are these social justice movements (SJM) impacting marketing and communication?
So far, feminism, BLM, and body positivity – only to mention a few – have inspired many professionals to adopt a fresh perspective on how specific expressions or situations are used and portrayed. The most well-received change was ditching stereotypes to favour a more inclusive way of communicating. For instance, more and more fashion brands (e.g., Stella McCartney and Primark) have released campaigns where photo editing was nearly absent, and models differed by ethnicity, body type, and distinctive features. Consumers enthusiastically praised these campaigns as they finally felt represented.
Representation and acceptance are the keywords here. With the evolution of social constructs, things have started looking brighter: ethnicities are better represented, puns once considered fun have gradually been abandoned, and gender representation has become more linguistically, conceptually, and visually inclusive. Following global events like COP26 and increased awareness of the topic, a high number of plant-based products are now publicised on billboards, magazines, and even on TV to positively inspire people to play their part in fighting climate change.
Are Social Justice Movements changing communication for the better?
At this point, there's a second question: are social justice movements changing communication for the better? It may seem a trivial question, but it's not, and professionals have mixed opinions. Undoubtedly, all the improvements we mentioned are worthy of recognition and praise. However, in the industry, there's a not-so-hidden fear that these changes may negatively impact creativity. Some say that pulling off a punny slogan, using (or not using) specific visuals, or coming up with bold ideas feels like walking on eggshells now.
The truth is we’re witnessing the beginning of a new era. As our society progresses, it brings along modern views and new communication methods that we’re still unfamiliar with. Yes, it’ll be challenging, it’s not possible to please everyone, and mistakes will be made.
But aren't mistakes the most powerful trigger for change and improvement?