Activist Advertising: Monetizing Outrage in the Internet Age

 

Black girl talking

Hasbro announced that they would be releasing Rey figures for their Star Wars line after much hullabaloo was raised when the main character was missing from a variety of toy lines. Rightfully fans pointed out that it was insane that the main character from the biggest film of all time was missing from the merchandise. The company apologized for their “oversight” much to fans delight. But I imagine that the company is even more delighted. They will profit from the outrage that was generated. The internet culture of outrage has been successfully monetized.

This isn’t to say that the company shouldn’t have been questioned as to the lack of representation in their toys and merchandise. That is a HUGE problem in the world of geek which despite having been proved to have a dearth of female consumers still panders to the cis White male audience and the trappings of Western society’s gender beliefs. This is something that needs to be called out and pushed back against.

Still, that doesn’t mean that those same companies haven’t found a way to profit off of that pushback. There’s a saying that all press is good press and that’s not true in every situation but in a situation where the damaging effects can be mitigated? Free publicity.

For those issues that cannot be corrected, think Pan, the movie that bombed months before it was released due in large part to the issues it had with it’s terrible casting choices, obviously, the press it received killed the film. There was no way to recover. But for other situations where a shirt could be removed or a few toys added, how much are all of those thought pieces worth?

This fiasco with the Star Wars franchise is just one example in a long list of times that activist have spoken out against companies and although they at times had offensive clothing removed, websites re-branded, etc, they also have driven a ton of traffic to those businesses.

The reverse works too. When people petitioned to (rightfully) have the confederate flag removed from government buildings, There was a huge spike in sales of confederate merchandise. Although no one group (unless you count Amazon) really profited from that, it’s clear that the new found buying power of the symbol came in part due to the storm of internet outrage that surrounded the event.

When we vocally complain about something, it creates a lot of buzz around the product. It causes people to write think pieces, news outlets to pick up the story, conversation. It puts the issue on people’s minds. This is good, there’s nothing wrong with that.

It also creates free advertisements as people double check, follow links and the like. Which large companies want.

This shouldn’t stop people from calling out issues when they find them. What should happen is critically looking at the companies and to determine whether or not they are truly in the wrong or if they are using activism as a way to generate free advertisement.

This may be an unavoidable side effect of operating on an internet platform where all of our thoughts, feelings, and viewpoints are in the public eye freely shared far and wide. However, being aware of a system doesn’t mean you have to be completely complacent in it. Certainly, question practices that continue to exclude women and people of color from pop culture but also question whether or not you’re unwittingly part of a profit building venture.

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