Is ‘woke’ messaging the future of marketing and PR campaigns?

This week, account manager Jo Aitchison considers whether PR campaigns are keeping up in our ever-changing society, looking at how ‘woke’ messaging is now the future of marketing

What does ‘woke’ mean?

The definition of ‘woke’ was updated by the Oxford English dictionary in June 2017 and is now defined as: ‘alert to injustice in society, especially racism’.

The term woke started its life as the slang expression: ‘stay woke’ and was popularised in 2014 during the Black Lives Matter movement, calling for racial justice.

Woke has since grown to become an umbrella term encompassing not just racial equality but diversity and equality for all – LGBTQ+, gender, religions and more.

PR and marketing campaigns have often fallen short of the above criteria – lowlights including Kendall Jenner’s ill-fated Pepsi ad, which appeared to depict a white woman capitalising on the Black Lives Matter marches, and Dove’s awful social post which showed an image of a black woman using Dove body lotion and transforming into a white woman.

Some campaigns have subverted the idea of ‘wokeness’ for effect – including the children’s maternity clothing campaign by hasan & partners to highlight the high pregnancy rate in children in developing countries; and Red’s True Barbeque’s ‘Save a Vegan’ billboards, calling upon meat eaters to ‘save’ their vegan counterparts.

As marketeers, being politically, socially and racially aware of what certain words, phrases or images could evoke is incredibly important to avoid causing offence.

This week, with the sound of Britney’s Brighton Pride performance still ringing in my ears, I’m picking out my favourite woke PR campaigns.

DublinBus Proud Dads – ‘I always told you I was proud of you and I always told you I’d support you – let’s go to Pride, son.’

The summer months have seen Pride celebrations across the UK – and the world – singing to the tune of ‘love is love’ and acceptance for all in the LGBTQ+ community.

Dublin Bus joined in with the celebrations, creating a video of one of its buses – adorned with the iconic, rainbow stripes – chauffeuring Dublin’s LGBTQ+ community to the Pride celebrations.

Crucially, it also picked up their dads, who joined in with the glittery, colourful and jubilant celebrations on the bus.

The video has been viewed more than a million times on Facebook and shared 10,000 times – as well as racking up more than 126,000 views on YouTube.

It’s concise (1 min 42 secs), clear and has closed captions so is incredibly sharable – promoting a brand message of inclusivity and support.

It also gained national coverage in The i and BBC News.

Lynx Is it Ok? – ‘Is it ok to experiment with other guys?’

One of my favourite campaigns from last year came from Lynx, another video which looked at common questions men google around the traditional idea of ‘masculinity’.

According to Lynx, ‘57% of guys have been told how a real man should behave’.

Boxer, Anthony Joshua, You Me at Six singer, Josh Franceschi and actor, Will Poulter joined the campaign – reading out questions men have Googled (including: ‘is it ok for guys to drink soya milk?’) and giving their reactions in subsequent, short videos.

They present reassuring voices from men Lynx’s buyer demographic trust and admire, promoting authenticity in the message.

The lead campaign video has had almost 2.5 million views and gained national coverage in The Telegraph and Huffington Post.

This Girl Can – ‘Life is no longer about what I think I can’t do, it’s now about believing that I can.’

This campaign has been delivered through a multi-channel approach and was created as a response to Sport England’s Active People Survey, which found there were two million fewer women participating in sport than men – the majority of which citing ‘fear of judgement’ as their reason for not participating’.

Sport England says the idea of sport being just for men is an outdated stereotype and it’s time women own femininity in a new, active way.

This Girl Can is centred around getting women into any form of recreational sport, debunking the myth they’ll be judged or looked down on.

It also focusses around diversity, depicting women from a variety of ages, ethnicities, body types and athletic abilities in its imagery and is known for its motivational and positive slogans such as: ‘I jiggle, therefore I am’ and ‘I’m slow but I’m lapping everyone on the couch’.

It shares inspirational and motivational stories on its YouTube channel, which has more than 20,000 subscribers and in 2016, the campaign claims to have got an additional 1.6 million women into exercise.

Sport England and the Lottery Fund have also joined forces with local councils and sports groups to promote their message – getting communities involved, owning the message and mobilising these groups to promote it on their behalf.

Yes, sometimes being woke is mocked (see BBC Comedy video) and by some people it’s seen as a cliché millennial trend.

But I see it as being essential for survival in a world that’s changing faster than ever before – and PR campaigns need to keep up.

By Jo Aitchison

Jo supports both consumer and B2B clients – working across food and drink, legal, and property sectors. She has experience writing for charity, retail, professional services and public sector clients – delivering creative campaigns and gaining regional and national coverage.