‘The Glad Wall’ and Why Brands Must Revisit Their Protest Ads Post-Pepsi

Suddenly, it's an even finer line to walk

After a week when brands’ lip service to political causes was laid bare through the Pepsi fiasco, Glad trash bags today launches a curious installation, “The Glad Wall,” that also takes a political stand—wrapped in a product pitch.

The installation was made by the ad agency Alma, a unit of Omnicom’s DDB, for this weekend’s Art Walk Festival in the Wynwood Art District of Miami. It takes a general stand against prejudice and intolerance by featuring references on a black wall to recent high-profile instances of hate—the text includes “Pulse Nightclub,” “Jewish Cemetery Vandalized in Rochester NY” and “Muslim Ban.”

At the top of the wall, four disembodied arms hold the letters H-A-T-E in Glad trash bags. “We have a lot of trash to get rid of,” says copy above a Glad-branded trash can.

Leaving aside the question of what a commercial is doing in the middle of an art exhibition, the stunt, while unique in its execution, is in keeping with lots of work by brands in recent years that takes aim, broadly, at hatred or injustice. In the wake of the Pepsi debacle, though, it may be harder—at least for a while—to seem sincere when tying a political message to one’s product pitch.

On the one hand, “The Glad Wall” is an innocuous protest against hate and a call for the world to be a better place. On the other hand, it implies Glad is helping to make that happen. But is it?

In some ways, yes. Glad and its parent, Clorox, have been committed to environmental causes, partly through product innovation, for years. Among other efforts, Alma created the Glad Tent at SXSW a few years ago, stressing the importance of picking up trash after musical festivals, and the Fresh Vs. Rotten demo wall to demonstrate that Glad cling wrap keeps food fresher longer, which is also good for the environment.

That’s a worthy cause. “The Glad Wall” calls for social justice, though, which is a different cause—and one in which Glad doesn’t have any history of involvement. Indeed, in some ways, “The Glad Wall” feels like a product pitch first and a commitment to a cause second.

“The world is full of trash, but Glad is literally getting rid of the heaviest of all, hate, with an installation to convey that Glad’s unique ForceFlex technology lets us carry the heaviest loads without tearing the bag,” Alma CEO and creative chairman Luis Miguel Messianu told AdFreak in an email.

That’s a pretty awkward conflation of product and cause marketing. And while it’s not as egregious as suggesting a can of Pepsi can help black people not get shot by police, it does raise the question of what a trash bag really has to do with hatred, or tolerance, or any social benefit beyond bagging your actual garbage.

Glad hasn’t co-opted a specific movement here, and “The Glad Wall” is hardly a Pepsi-level fail. But for brands, it’s worth going back and asking why they’re doing cause marketing in the first place—and whether it’s product driven or something bigger.

“As long as there’s a linkage with the brand’s benefit and purpose, it’s now almost mandatory to establish goals of this nature,” Messianu says of the responsibility to take a stand on current events. That may be true. But if it becomes little more than another box to check, more brands will run the risk of having such efforts backfire.

For its part, Glad clearly means well. But post-Pepsi, all brands should take a fresh look at their protest ads and other cause marketing and ask how much of it is real, heartfelt and beneficial—and how much could be seen as opportunistic.

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