Aligning products with protests a boon for marketers

Images of huge crowds protesting in Ukraine and Venezuela, or in Egypt and Brazil before that, have become very familiar. Marketers are also being drawn into those protests, either intentionally, or by accident.

Marketers are being drawn into protests whether they like it or not

Levi's Go Forth marketing campaign ran internationally with the tagline, "Now is our time." (Levi's )

Images of huge crowds protesting in Ukraine and Venezuela, or in Egypt and Brazil before that, have become very familiar.

Marketers are also being drawn into those protests, either intentionally, or by accident. Shortly after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Levi's started running this commercial.

Crowds of denim-clad 20-somethings work, party and protest amid clouds of tear gas and walls of riot police. The commercial ends with the Levi's logo and the words, "Go Forth." 

Was Levi's shamelessly piggybacking on the life-and-death struggles of young people around the world in order to sell more jeans?

Or was the company actually fomenting revolution, as ultra-conservative commentator Glenn Beck suggested?

But some marketers get drawn into protests unintentionally. And in the case of Fiat and Johnnie Walker in Brazil, they were quite pleased about it.

Last summer, Brazilians were protesting government corruption and lavish spending on sporting events at the expense of education and health care. At the time, Fiat happened to be celebrating a soccer championship by running the above commercial.

Also running at the same time was a Johnnie Walker commercial featuring Rio's iconic Sugarloaf Mountain as it transformed into a stone giant struggling to its feet and walking into the ocean. Then type on the screen read "The giant is no longer asleep. Keep Walking, Brazil."

Protesters cleverly created a popular video that was a mash-up of Fiat's "Come to the Street" song and Johnnie Walker's giant awakening footage. They even co-opted the two advertising slogans for placards in their demonstrations.

Why didn't the companies take action against the protesters' trademark infringements? Well, not only did Fiat and Johnnie Walker receive vastly expanded exposure, they were also linked to a popular protest movement that ultimately achieved many of its goals.

But sometimes marketers get dragged into revolutions against their will.

In December, Vodafone in Egypt ran this lighthearted ad in which sock puppets used a sniffer dog to solve a mystery. But an overzealous viewer complained to the state security authority that the commercial referred to a bomb threat by the Muslim Brotherhood, which led to Vodafone executives being questioned without charges.

Some marketers may find they can benefit from associating themselves with revolution, either deliberately or inadvertently, to attract the attention of target audiences. But when they attract the attention of counter-revolutionaries and repressive regimes, they can become targets themselves.