Social Experiments in Marketing

In 2014, the feminine hygiene product company Always filmed a social experiment where they interviewed girls of various ages about what it means to do something—run, throw, etc.—“like a girl.” During the course of the experiment, they noticed a trend. Girls who were about 10 years old and younger had no preconceived notions about what it meant to do something “like a girl,” while girls who were of puberty age and older associated the phrase “like a girl” with inadequacy and lack of skill. Ultimately, their experiment showed that self-esteem in girls plummets at the time of puberty, and it could very much in part be linked to the usage phrases like “like a girl.”

You could definitely call the social experiment a success for Always, as it has over 63 million views to date. Always isn’t the only company to see success in their marketing thanks to a social experiment video, either. Dove with its “real beauty sketches” is another leading example, with its popular video from 2013 garnering 67 million views to date.

Social experiments haven’t quite reached the mainstream in the world of marketing, but these examples show that social experiments can be an immensely powerful force in a marketing campaign. Here are a few things that experts have to say about the role that a social experiment can play in marketing.

People connect with real people.

One thing that makes social experiment videos powerful is that they document real people. Anyone watching a social experiment video can imagine themselves participating in the experiment. This makes the video more relatable, and that, in turn, can cause the video to resonate more deeply with its viewers.

Experiments with emotional appeal are the most powerful.

Of course, not all social experiments have emotional appeal. The most powerful ones in marketing, however, are the ones that make the viewer take an introspective look at themselves. Social experiment videos with emotional appeal are the ones that are going to resonate more deeply with viewers.

Social experiments are heavily critiqued.

Any company that is considering incorporating a social experiment into their marketing must remember that social experiments are heavily critiqued. Experts will be quick to weigh in on the validity of the experiment, and if not done right, you video could easily receive a negative public response. Even Dove’s beauty sketches video, for example, wasn’t without its criticisms. Sociologists were quick to point out that the three women featured in the video lacked diversity—all were white and fit into a particular “beauty aesthetic.” In addition, the experiment seemed somewhat skewed, as the sketch artist knew the purpose of the experiment beforehand, and the women were not allowed to review their drawings when the sketch artist was finished (as is standard procedure with sketch artists). In short, do your social research and invest accordingly if you want to harness the power of a social experiment in your marketing.

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