By Mary Kerr
What’s taboo with you?
I hadn’t heard the term ‘goodvertising’ until last week. Of course it makes sense with brands increasingly feeling the pressure to contribute good to the world rather than seeming to mindlessly peddle needless wants. I see this shift as a good thing but I do think there is a way to ‘goodvertise’ – you can usually smell a brand a mile off that has mindlessly tacked its name to a cause. It’s been a month since Gillette caused uproar about toxic masculinity but the fiery debate over what right brands have to weigh in on such issues is still heated.
There was a campaign we were shown the other day by Ruavieja – a herbal liqueur from Spain. It involves real people and calculated how much time they had left to spend with the people they cared about most in the world whilst raised the question of how we spend our time in general. It was a strong idea but as soon as the Ruavieja bottle of liquor crossfaded up at the end I immediately felt manipulated. It suddenly felt that the whole project had been coldly manufactured in a soundstage to make an emotional plea for donations to the alcohol industry. The brand and the issue felt a step too removed from one another. However, there are brands like Whirlpool who created the Whirlpool Care Counts campaign where, having realised that many kids miss school in America because of a lack of clean clothes, they donated washing machines and dryers to schools and saw a huge increase in attendance over the year. This was a brand creating a campaign that delivered real value rather than just raising awareness. And although I think raising awareness is important, if it can be done in a meaningful way by also adding value to the world, then all the better. But increasingly brands are accused of pink washing, green washing and just general insincerity when it comes to goodvertising or shining a light on something considered taboo.
Taboos have always interested me. I respect that some have historical or religious roots and exist as necessary moral codes of conduct and that not all taboos are bad but I think it’s important to look at what makes something taboo and look at when it’s time for the issue to be reconsidered.
When a taboo is created from a fear or misunderstanding and created social isolation. When a taboo puts peoples lives at risk, then I think it’s vital that a light is shone upon it. Taboos die on exposure – like tiny, pointy toothed little vampires.
In the summer of 2001 I watched my personality slip away from me. It was the first time I had experienced depression and within a number of days I felt I had been left with nothing but an empty shell. 18 years ago no one my age understood or talked about depression. Friends who I’d spent my first year of university with disappeared, unsure how to deal with the situation. I don’t blame them now, looking back mental health was a taboo subject and it was easier to ignore.
The following term I quit University and after some time recovering I went to stay with a friend in LA. He was struggling with coming out at the time. When I say struggling, it wasn’t that he was struggling himself, he was struggling with how other people would struggle with it. I remember us sitting at this party like we were part of the cast of The Breakfast Club (I was dressed in black head to toe.) We felt like total misfits, unable to make a connection apart from with one another. Now 18 years on and the Western world is radically different. He now lives with his husband and they are both successful actors with a fan base that don’t give a shit about their sexual preferences. On my end I don’t have any qualms about having struggled with depression in my life. Or addiction. Sometimes I feel I may talk about it too much but I believe that without a light having been shone upon those issues by those experiencing them before me, I would be leading a very different existence now.
That’s why I’m interested in the D&AD brief on the challenging the taboo around female menstruation around the world. India, Nepal and Kenya are just some of the countries where menstruation is so taboo that 73% of women do not know what is happening to them when they first get their period. The way that these women then deal with their periods is putting lives at risk. This has to change and although we are further ahead here in the UK, we still have a large number of women facing period poverty. So there is still a long way to go and I wonder where we’ll be in another 18 years because it seems we sometimes take two steps forward, one step back. But if it takes goodversting and brands to help make it two steps instead of one, then I think that is a great thing.
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