A few weeks ago, I attended a talk at Goldsmiths (where I am studying for my MA in Promotional Media), and listened to a very eloquent and shiny presentation from a representative from Vodafone about their CSR initiatives. The gist was that they only invest in developing countries that support human rights and freedom of the press.

I also read this article from The Guardian, “Sex doesn’t sell any more, activism does. And don’t the big brands know it,” by Alex Holder. This article basically argued that brands will follow trends to gain the most support, and lately, that trend is socially responsible and ethically moral activist work. As long as that sells, and until we become cynical about the activism these big brands are supposedly doing, then brands will keep it up.

I’m in agreement with Holder, the author of the Guardian article: if these brands are taking the initiative to perform activist work in order to get our money, then I am on board. At least they’re doing something good for the world.

The thing that I’m wary of here is something else Holder pointed out: certain brands, which may seem ethical and socially just in their advertising, are owned by companies who sell other brands that are just not. Holder provides the example of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty–Dove is owned by Unilever, which also sells Axe/Lynx body spray. Anyone whose seen an advert for the spray knows that it works: it’s used by every 13-year-old boy in the Western World because the ads feature beautiful women falling into the arms of handsome men after just a whiff of the (extraordinarily overpowering and frankly sickly) scent.

I’d also like to point out that every company who owns multiple brands creates cognitive dissonance for consumers, because the marketplace is too crowded for all the brands to say the same thing. Therefore, some of them feel like they have to stick with their messages of sexism and objectification. I don’t support that, but I understand why.

In a perfect world, advertising wouldn’t work. It’s built upon the principle of selling you something to make you feel better about yourself. Until that disappears, advertising will continue to take advantage of your lack of self-esteem and self-control. It goes for using CSR and ethical responsibility as well: companies are doing it because it makes you feel better when you buy their products.