From TV spots featuring interracial families, to links between shiny hair and feminism, companies like General Mills, Coca-Cola and others are embracing social issues — and potential controversies — that come with today’s modern families. While some consumers cheer the more inclusive advertising, companies have also experienced doubt about their motives. Kojo explores the social, cultural and corporate shifts at play when advertisers embrace social causes.

Guests

  • Jonah Berger Professor of Marketing, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; Author, "Contagious: Why Things Catch On"
  • Jessica Valenti columnist, The Guardian; author, "Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness"

Featured Videos: Do Issue-Based Ads Work?

A growing number of companies are embracing advertising campaigns that take on social and cultural issues, a strategy that often resonates with consumers but can also backfire.

This Cheerios ad featuring an interracial family, for instance, prompted a flood of reaction from consumers.

And when Honey Maid created this ad, featuring both interracial families and same-sex households, the company used the responses, positive and negative, to create a new message about love.

Burger King took a similar strategy with its ‘Proud Whopper’ video, which shows a variety of reactions to burgers sold in a rainbow wrapper out of a San Francisco franchise during Pride Week.

Pantene has ventured into womens’ issues with several of its campaigns.

This commercial features scenarios in which women say “sorry” unnecessarily, then, re-imagines each situation with a more confident and less deferential response.

An ad for Always – which, like Pantene is owned by Procter & Gamble – challenges what it means to do something “like a girl.”

Not all of these ads are successful, though: This Evian video was viewed by more than 55 million people but didn’t have a measurable effect on Evian’s sales.

Transcript

  • 12:27:38

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIPrint and TV ads that reflect feminist views and the changing demographics of American families aiming to sell everything from burgers to shampoo have been going viral. Some activists cheer them empowering messages and good intent while others say they lack important context and do little to actually address or rectify longstanding social problems. For companies, these ads can be a gamble. One in which they actively court one demographic while running the risk of alienating others.

  • 12:28:05

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to discuss what happens when social activism and advertising intersect is Jessica Valenti, author and columnist for the Guardian. Her most recent book is "Why Have Kids: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness." She joins us from studios in Woodstock, N.Y. Jessica, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:28:24

    MS. JESSICA VALENTIThank you for having me.

  • 12:28:25

    NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Durham, N.C. is Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and author of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On." Jonah Berger, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:28:37

    MR. JONAH BERGERNice to be here, Kojo.

  • 12:28:39

    NNAMDIJessica I'll start with you. Savvy consumers know that in advertising, no matter the message, the endgame is a sale. And ads are an inescapable part of the social and cultural landscape that we live in. But is the way social values and advocacy issues fit into the equation changing?

  • 12:28:58

    VALENTII do think it's changing. And I wrote about this recently, the way that ads specifically and that women are using more and more feminist rhetoric which is sort of great in one way. Because we're so used to seeing commercials and ads be explicitly sexist. And having feminist messages is certainly better than not. But I think it's also insidious, right, because these are not feminists. These are corporations. They're not trying to push feminism. They're trying to sell a product. They're just using the veneer of feminism as a way to sell their product. So I think, you know, there's positives but there's a lot of negatives.

  • 12:29:36

    NNAMDIYour thoughts on this, Jonah?

  • 12:29:38

    BERGERYou know, I agree and I disagree. I totally agree that if companies are only using this for profit then it's not very good for consumers at the end of the day. If companies are just, you know, jumping on the bandwagon to get a little bit of the benefit of being associated with a cause, then it's not adding to the social good. That said, there are some of these campaigns that do help movements at the end of the day that help movements grow.

  • 12:30:02

    BERGERA few years ago there was a great campaign that American Express was part of around share our strength where, yes, it encouraged people to use their American Express card but it also helped, you know, small restaurants and neighborhood businesses get more business. And so at the end of the day I think if these companies are creating value, it's a good thing. If all they're doing is taking some of that value, then I definitely agree, it's not a good thing.

  • 12:30:23

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Has an ad highlighting a social movement elicited a strong emotional reaction from you, either positive or negative? Tell us what was being advertised and how, 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Jessica, on the heels of Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," it seems a wide variety of companies offering a range of products have embraced feminism in particular. Does the product being sold make a difference, especially if it's say a luxury versus a necessity or beauty product?

  • 12:31:01

    VALENTII do think that it makes a difference. And I think it's interesting that we've seen a lot of beauty products and beauty companies like Dove and Pantene sort of glum on to the feminist message. Because these are companies that have historically, you know, banked on women's insecurities and made money off of women feeling bad about themselves. And now the commercials are, you know, feel great about yourself and women power and all bodies are beautiful, which are sort of on the surface really wonderful messages.

  • 12:31:30

    VALENTIBut these are the companies that helped to create those problems to begin with. So it feels a bit hypocritical, you know, to make money off of those messages now. And I think, you know, for a lot of feminists it feels like a co-opting of our messaging.

  • 12:31:45

    NNAMDIJonah, does the product being sold make a difference?

  • 12:31:48

    BERGERCertainly. I think it makes a difference for a slightly different reason other than what Jessica was talking about. You know, really at the end of the day these campaigns are only helpful to companies if they move the needle. If they increase the sale of their hair care products or sell more soap. And so, you know, if it's a movement in a company, they're sort of smashed together and it could've been for any product, the consumer's not going to remember the company that the ad or the movement was for. And so it's not really going to help the company. And so the key is that the company's actually integrated into the message that they're trying to share.

  • 12:32:17

    NNAMDIJessica, a recent Pantene ad -- you mentioned Pantene -- highlights scenarios in which women say, sorry, when they needn't. Then it re-imagines each scene with them being more confident, less deferential. A lot of women identified with it but, as you note, context is key. What factors are pushing women to this sorry behavior and how can they change it without, as you've described it, looking inward to fix external problems?

  • 12:32:42

    VALENTIRight. And that was the problem that I had with the Pantene commercial. It was -- you know, it put the onus on women yet again to fix something about themselves. And this time it wasn't, you know, their fat thighs or their dry hair. It's that we say, sorry too much, which certainly is a problem. Women do apologize when they don't need to apologize. And -- but without this sort of structural broader context of why women do that -- and I sort of see it as a survival technique in a misogynist society -- you know, you're losing something. And you're putting the blame on women.

  • 12:33:14

    VALENTIYou know, to really get to the core of that you need to look at those broader issues. And that's just not something that can be addressed in a, you know, 30-second ad.

  • 12:33:23

    NNAMDIYou can see those -- that ad and others at our website kojoshow.org where you can also join this conversation, ask a question or make a comment. Do you think advertising and social issues should overlap. 800-433-8850 is our number. We are talking with Jessica Valenti, author and columnist for the Guardian. Her most recent book is "Why Have Kids: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness." And Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and author of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On."

  • 12:33:51

    NNAMDIJessica, some might argue that drawing attention to these issues without much background nevertheless improves awareness and understanding. Is it up to activists then to use these ads as a jumping off point for more meaningful conversations?

  • 12:34:05

    VALENTII mean, I think that we can do that and that we have done that. You know, I like sort of gateway drugs to feminism. I think that there's nothing wrong with that. But when it's a corporation that's making money off of, you know, feminist work, it feels uncomfortable. And I think feminists feel uncomfortable with that rightly so, you know. Right now feminism, women's issues is very much the (unintelligible) and that's why we're seeing so much attention paid to it in commercials and elsewhere.

  • 12:34:35

    VALENTIIf it was misogyny that was the hot thing, you know, which it was for quite a while, that's what ads would be focusing on.

  • 12:34:42

    NNAMDIJonah, companies deciding to make an ad with a social message are taking a calculated risk. What are some of the potential pitfalls and rewards they have to weigh when they're doing so?

  • 12:34:53

    BERGERThe key question here is authenticity. You know, consumers can see through many of these ads. If a company just one day takes on a particular message and the next week takes on something completely different, people can tell. And so, you know, one key question, does it seem authentic? You know, is it something that fits with the brand and seems like something the brand really cares about? Or is it just a particular, you know, coat that they're throwing on this week because a particular topic is hot and they're going to switch the next one?

  • 12:35:17

    BERGERSo one of those key questions, you know, can people believe that this is something the brand actually stands for or are they just flip-flopping on whatever happens to be what's popular at the moment?

  • 12:35:27

    NNAMDIJessica, you wanted to say? I hear you wanted to say.

  • 12:35:29

    VALENTIYeah, you know, I do want to say something to that. You know, I think part of the problem is that authenticity is really hard to figure out when it comes to these commercials, right. And I think Dove's Real Beauty campaign is a really good example of that, where I truly believe that the women behind that campaign do believe all bodies should be accepted and that, you know, all women are beautiful.

  • 12:35:52

    VALENTIBut Dove is owned by Unilever who also makes Axe body spray, which is -- you know, has extremely sexist commercials. It also sells skin-whitening cream to women of color. So I don't think that that's an authentic message for that larger company. But how do we -- how can you possibly know that if you don't have that set of information in front of you?

  • 12:36:16

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here is Gavin in Leesburg, Va. Gavin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:36:23

    GAVINHi, Kojo. Thanks very much. I want to talk about the negative space or maybe 180 degrees to what you're talking about, but it's what I've called for many years, the dumb white guy in commercials. And I wonder how if -- it's not a conspiracy to create this image of men in commercials but it seems to promote in the other way what you're talking about, which is that, you know, guys are fumbling and they can't do a diaper and that sort of thing.

  • 12:36:53

    NNAMDIJessica, care to respond to that?

  • 12:36:55

    VALENTII would. You know, I think that the -- I agree that the dumb guy in commercials has got to go. But I have sort of a different take on it. You know, if the guys is so dumb that he can't change a diaper, guess who's stuck with changing the diaper? It's the women. So I think that there's a very sort of sexist message in there that, again, you know, puts the responsibility on women to do the laundry, to cook the dinner, to change the diaper that the supposedly inept male cannot handle.

  • 12:37:26

    NNAMDIJonah Berger.

  • 12:37:28

    BERGERYou know, these things are so interesting because on the one hand I agree. Many ads are stereotypical and they're based on selling products. On the other hand, you know, these ads help bring to the fore issues that might not get attention otherwise.

  • 12:37:41

    BERGERSo, you know, the dumb white stereotype, I agree, the dumb guy, you know, we can get rid of that. But in terms of, you know, whether ads shouldn't talk about feminist issues or shouldn't touch anything that they might not totally be 100 percent behind, I think a lot of these issues get brought to the fore because companies do some of the work there. And so I don't think it's a totally bad thing. Though I do agree that ads are overly stereotypical.

  • 12:38:03

    NNAMDIWe did do a broadcast here on gender stereotyping in TV ads back in February of 2012. You can go to our website and go into our archives to find it. It was on February 2, 2012. If you'd like to join the conversation right now, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Has an ad ever offended you so much you stopped buying a product or inspired you so much you've started? Tell us how actively ads influence your purchasing decisions, 800-433-8850?

  • 12:38:30

    NNAMDIJonah some ads that have created buzz and some controversy have done so not by highlighting an issue but by reflecting the country's changing demographics. Cheerios and Honey Maid were both overwhelmed by reaction to ads featuring mixed race families. And in Honey Maid's case, same sex couples. What do those examples -- which I mentioned earlier listeners can find video of at our website kojoshow.org -- what do those examples teach us about the rate of social change we're seeing and how advertisers are keeping up?

  • 12:39:01

    BERGERI think those are some great examples of cases where advertisers took a little bit of a risk. And actually because people, as they often do online, make, you know, dumb negative and not super insightful comments, started a broader discussion that was actually quite useful. It got a lot of people to realize that there are some important changes going on in society. And some companies are doing some good work behind those things.

  • 12:39:23

    BERGERControversy always generates discussion as long as there's not too much. There's a lot of controversy. You know, people aren't going to have lots of conversations around partial birth abortions. But, you know, middle controversy, things like mixed racial marriages in America, these ads can get a lot of buzz for the company, but also help bring those discussions to a larger political space.

  • 12:39:43

    NNAMDIWhat do you say, Jessica?

  • 12:39:45

    VALENTII agree. You know, I love the Cheerios commercial. I thought it was fantastic and I think it did open up a broader conversation about race, as did the Honey Maid with same-sex couples. Though I wouldn't be a good feminist if I didn't mention that there's no such thing as partial birth abortions.

  • 12:40:03

    NNAMDIHere is Jim, in Laurel, Md. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:08

    JIMIt's -- I think the rule of journalism is that whatever they look for is what they find, but it's also most unlikely to happen. There was a study a number of years ago, when supposedly there was all these sexist ads against women. And what they found was -- this is from the book "Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say." Men were the objects of rejection, anger and violence in the ads 100 percent of the time. And they're also portrayed as jerks 100 percent of time.

  • 12:40:33

    NNAMDII find that fascinating. First Jessica and then Jonah. Men making men -- I'm assuming that a lot of the people who write and produce these commercials are men -- men making fun of ourselves. Jessica?

  • 12:40:45

    VALENTIWell, you know, I think that the difference in the way that men are portrayed in commercials is that there's a sort of variety of characteristics men are allowed to take on. Like, yeah, certainly they can be portrayed as dumb and as jerks, but they're also portrayed as heroes and as amazing. And they're driving their fast car and getting all the hot ladies. And women, on the other hand, are really only given a very small subset of roles, you know, a mother, sexy girl, daughter, so, you know.

  • 12:41:16

    NNAMDIJonah?

  • 12:41:18

    BERGERI think I very much agree with what Jessica said and the range of characters that people can play. I think it's important to realize though, that ads aren't too different from movies. When we think about movies, you know movies don't show everyday people in their everyday lives doing everyday things. If there was a movie of what I did on a daily basis, probably about four people would watch it and two of those would be my parents because it wouldn't be very exciting.

  • 12:41:39

    BERGERMovies show people in unusual situations. They show characters that have particular, often stereotypical roles to make a point. And so ads are the same way. You know, when you walk into Abercrombie and Fitch, for better or worse, they have a particular product they want to sell, they have a particular identity they want to sell, and so they share messages and identities that are consistent with that broader image they want to project.

  • 12:42:00

    BERGERIt happens in movies, it happens in ads as well. And so I think, you know, I wish in some cases that there were a broader set of situations for women -- and I think there should be, equal to men. But I'm not so surprised that men and women often end up playing stereotypical roles in ads and movies and culture more generally because these things are out there to make a point.

  • 12:42:20

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation. If you have called, stay on the line, we will get to your calls. If you'd like to send us an email you can go to -- you can send it to kojo@wamu.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Are you apt to share ads on social media? Tell us what kinds of conversations you've sparked if you do. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:31

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on advertising and social movements. We're talking with Jessica Valenti, author and columnist for The Guardian. Her most recent book is "Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness."

  • 12:44:43

    NNAMDIJonah Berger is a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and author of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On." I'd like to go directly to the phones and start this time with Carolyn, in Reston, Va. Carolyn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:44:58

    CAROLYNHi, Kojo. I'm just wondering if the panelists could talk about the -- give specific examples of commercials that are giving these strong feminist messages. I haven't heard anyone give any specific commercials yet. I still am seeing commercials on network TV that are telling me that various parts of my body aren't clean enough, they're not good enough, I have to have special products to make myself clean enough and good enough. And I'm just not seeing the strong feminist influences that your panelists are talking about.

  • 12:45:30

    NNAMDIWell, Janet (sic), allow me to read you this email we got from -- I mean, Carolyn, allow me to read you this email we got from Janet, who said, "I recently saw an ad showing messages as a young girl receiving throughout her youth to not mess up her dress, discouraging her from exploring nature, doing an engineering project and a voiceover, saying that her space model project had gotten out of hand.

  • 12:45:48

    NNAMDI"It encouraged parents to promote and support their daughters' STEM interests. I loved the message, but have no memory of what company was putting out the ad, except that it was a for-profit corporation and not a public interest organization." Well, Janet, it was a Verizon ad, but allow me to have Jessica Valenti respond about whether she thinks that's actually a commercial that promotes feminism.

  • 12:46:08

    VALENTII would have to -- I don't know that ad, so I'd have to see it before I pass judgment on it. But I do agree with Carolyn that, listen, the vast majority of commercials are extremely anti-feministic, extremely sexist and misogynist and continue to tell women that in one way or another they are not good enough. The commercials that we're talking about that are sort of using feminist language and rhetoric to sell their products -- I don't -- what's interesting is I don't see them on TV as much as I see them promoted in viral campaigns by those companies. So I almost sort of see them online more.

  • 12:46:44

    NNAMDICarolyn, thank you very much for your call. Jonah, speaking of viral, imagine if you had the definitive answer to this question you might be sitting on your own personal island someplace, but what makes an ad go viral and move so quickly across the web and into our conversations?

  • 12:47:00

    BERGERKojo, I'm, in fact, talking from my very own personal island.

  • 12:47:03

    NNAMDII see. You've solved this problem. Yes.

  • 12:47:06

    BERGERWe've spent the last 10 years studying stuff. And indeed there is a formula that underlies what people share. The book you mentioned, "Contagious: Why Things Catch On," chronicles the research that we've done. So a couple of years ago, for example, we looked at six months of New York Times articles, over 7,000 pieces of content -- everything from front-page political news to style to travel to sports -- to look at what made the emailed list and do textural analysis to understand why.

  • 12:47:31

    BERGERAnd so we see certain factors come up again and again and again. Emotion, for example. High arousal emotion, in particular. More high arousal emotions an ad or piece of content evokes, like anger or inspiration, the more likely it is to be shared. Social currency, the better content people -- makes people look.

  • 12:47:50

    BERGERSo, you know, by sharing an ad, if it makes me look smart and in the know by passing along a piece of news, if it makes me look cool among my social group, I'm much more likely to share that information. So we found sort of six key factors, or what I'll call steps, drive all sorts of content to be shared, both online and off.

  • 12:48:07

    NNAMDIOnto Abdu, in Falls Church, Va. Abdu, your turn.

  • 12:48:12

    ABDUThanks for taking my call, Kojo.

  • 12:48:16

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 12:48:18

    ABDUYes. I had a short comment. I wanted to say the advertisers' main objective is about money. So they have not moral objective. I mean, mainly. So the feminist movement is a good opportunity for them, as well as other, you know, like main things always in the media, conflicts, this is a good opportunity for them to make money.

  • 12:48:48

    NNAMDIJessica, what do you say to that? Feminism, as far as Abdu is concerned, is seen by advertisers as an opportunity.

  • 12:48:56

    VALENTII think it is. Unfortunately, they seem to be the only ones who are making money off of it. Feminists themselves are not fairing quite as well. But, yes, I agree with that. I think, you know, when advertisers or in companies see a movement, a message take off, of course they want to capitalize on it.

  • 12:49:15

    NNAMDIGot an email from a namesake of yours. Jessica emails to say, "I've long refused to buy cleaning products whose commercials always show a woman -- which is most of them, things like Jif, that say, "Choosy moms," which puts the onus entirely on the woman as the grocery shopper, the Phillips beauty in the brain ad, beautiful women, smart guy, because, of course, it can't be the other way around or heaven forbid, someone be both." Care to comment, Jessica?

  • 12:49:40

    VALENTII mean I applaud the other Jessica's efforts to avoid products that have sexist advertisements. I try to do the same, but I think at the end of the day, if we did that entirely, we wouldn't have, you know, any food in our pantry.

  • 12:49:58

    NNAMDISocial media have changed the game for both activists and advertisers, as these tools continue to evolve, each leveraging its social networks, what might each learn from the other, Jonah?

  • 12:50:12

    BERGERThe amazing thing about social media is how much it has changed and not changed communication. In some ways it's greatly changed communication. It's made it faster and easier for people to share messages with all sorts of others. You can post a message on Facebook and thousands of people may see it five minutes after you post it. It used to be you might have to talk to one person and then a message spreads slowly from person to person and it took a long time.

  • 12:50:35

    BERGERNow these things, both good and bad, can happen much faster. Videos and news articles can accumulate millions of views in a matter of hours. At the same time, if you actually look at what percent of word-of-mouth is online, what percent of all sort of consumer-to-consumer, person-to-person communication happens online, most people think it's 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent. Actually, only about 7 percent. Only about 7 percent of word-of-mouth about products and ideas and behaviors is online.

  • 12:51:05

    BERGERAnd so most of what we talk about and share is still offline. I think people forget that face-to-face is the original social media, not the first time people shared information was when the internet came around. It was thousands of years ago and we're still sharing information today.

  • 12:51:19

    NNAMDIJessica, what can activists learn through social media to influence advertising? And, I guess, what can advertising learn from social media to allow advertisers to understand exactly what the interests of various demographic groups and various political leanings are?

  • 12:51:39

    VALENTIYes, and I think it's the latter that I'm most interested in. I think over the last five years, especially with the explosion of social media, and certainly with the explosion of Twitter, we've seen, you know, women especially, responding to ads and letting advertisers know when they approve or disapprove. And mostly it's disapprove.

  • 12:52:01

    VALENTIThere's a great hashtag called "Not buying that," where women feminists -- male feminists, as well, of course -- call out sexism and misogyny in advertising. And they've had some successes with that, I believe, in having advertisers respond to them and listen to them and hopefully think about that the next time around.

  • 12:52:20

    NNAMDIOnto Carolina, in Elk Ridge, Md. Carolina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:52:26

    CAROLINAHi. Thank you. I'd like to answer the question if I was ever so offended that I didn't choose that product.

  • 12:52:32

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 12:52:33

    CAROLINAAnd I have to say it was a GoDaddy.com website. I'm a small business owner and about a year ago I had the choice of who to, you know, purchase from. And every time those ads are on TV I certainly don't want to be in the same room with my mother when that goes on. It's just unnecessarily sexual and honestly, misogynistic. And it just makes me uncomfortable. So if I'd had, you know, another choice -- and I did -- I went with Gandi.net. So…

  • 12:53:02

    NNAMDIInteresting. I'm glad you shared that sentiment with our listeners, but do you share that sentiment on social media? Do you share that sentiment with others?

  • 12:53:11

    CAROLINAI'm quite openly a clear feminist. That's just kind of who I am, but I'm also a pet-care lover. So that's kind of what comes out first.

  • 12:53:20

    NNAMDIOkay.

  • 12:53:22

    CAROLINABut, yeah, gender studies was definitely something I studied in college. And, you know, I wish I was still in class.

  • 12:53:27

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Carolina. Jonah Berger, what I was trying to get Carolina to respond to is how social media has also changed the relationship between companies and consumers, whether or not she and others in her social network were talking about or expressing the kinds of sentiments she was just expressing. How does that factor into this?

  • 12:53:47

    BERGERThat's a great point. So I think many companies see social media as another influence tool. A way to change people's behavior, to try to get them to like a particular product or brand. But social media is just as effective as a listening tool, as a market research tool, as a way to understand, well, how does the population feel about our product? We have a new ad out there -- for Go Daddy, we put an ad out there. If all the messages we hear back are this is the greatest ad ever, well, then we think we're doing a good job.

  • 12:54:14

    BERGERIf we hear lots of people like your caller saying, you know, this message is terrible. I hate this ad. It's inappropriate. Then Go Daddy's going to be much more likely to change that message next time around. And so rather than being a monologue or sort of a, you know, a company getting up on a soapbox and having a one-way communication, the benefit of social media has the opportunity to be a dialogue.

  • 12:54:32

    BERGERIf, you know, consumers say what they feel, companies should -- and hopefully do -- listen. You know, rather than bringing people into a room and paying them $100 an hour to share their opinion, the biggest focus group in the world is online data. And that's the big promise of social media, allowing companies and organizations, and non-profits as well, to listen to what people are saying and design their products and messages and ideas based on people's feedback.

  • 12:54:56

    NNAMDIJessica Valenti, any evidence at all that any major advertisers are responding to the social activity of feminists online, social media activity?

  • 12:55:08

    VALENTIWell, I think just the fact that they are including feminists messages in their advertising is a huge sort of sign of feminisms power. Even if I disagree with the way that they're going about it, the fact that they want to be seen as feminists is a huge sign of progress.

  • 12:55:30

    VALENTIYou know, it wasn't that long ago that feminists were still being maligned as man-haters and, you know, hairy, like Birkenstocks, all this sort of ridiculous stuff. So just the fact that feminism has this sort of cultural resonance now that advertisers do want to have I think is a sign of the movement's power.

  • 12:55:51

    NNAMDIJonah, if after seeing that Pantene sorry ad, from now on, every time a woman says sorry, at least for a while, she thinks of Pantene. Is that the kind of associations that companies are hoping to build?

  • 12:56:04

    BERGERSo that type of association is what I and other psychologists would call a trigger. Where one thing in the environment reminds us of something else. So if I said, "peanut butter and," and let the pause happen for a minute, you'd probably think of, well, jelly. Or if I said, "rum and," well, you might think of Coke. And so one idea can trigger or remind us of another thing that's out there. And so in the case of this Pantene ad, one thing that Pantene might be hoping is, wow, every time people say sorry they'll think about our ad.

  • 12:56:35

    BERGERAnd this happens all the time. Take Geico's ad from last year that was extremely popular about hump day. The camel walking around the office going, "What day is it?" Finally, someone says, "It's hump day." And the camel is very excited. Because happier than a camel on hump day, a camel has humps. You look at the shares of that ad, there's a really neat pattern. There's a spike and then it goes down. Then another spike, and then it goes down.

  • 12:56:56

    BERGERAnother spike, and then it goes down. If you look closer, the spikes in the shares aren't random, they're actually seven days. And if you look even closer you'll notice that they're, well, every Wednesday, or as it colloquially known, hump day. And so every time Wednesday rolls around, people think of hump day, they think about the Geico ad, they share it, beneficial for Geico. And I think Pantene's hoping for the same sort of thing here. Hoping that every time someone says sorry, they'll be triggered, think of Pantene.

  • 12:57:21

    NNAMDIJessica, we only have about a minute left, but Kay V. B. tweets, "Would love discussion about the hashtag area 'The real you is beautiful' campaign. Girls are not retouched, but they're all skinny, beautiful."

  • 12:57:33

    VALENTII don't know much about that campaign, but I am hesitant around any campaign that talks about the real beautiful or the beautiful or this is beautiful, that is beautiful, you're beautiful. Because even if the sort of broader message is we should be accepting of all people and everyone as beautiful, the implicit sort of understanding there is that it's important to be beautiful.

  • 12:57:55

    NNAMDIJessica Valenti is author and columnist for The Guardian. Her most recent book is "Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness." Jonah Berger is a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and author of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On." Thank you both for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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