'Woke' Advertising: Does it work?

Woke campaigns with Channel 4 and Hook Research

“Be real” is the most important guideline for advertisers wanting to show their socially conscious side. Consumers want to understand why a brand cares about an issue, and how that brand is acting or speaking to make a positive difference. The bar for authenticity is high – but the rewards are tangible including perceptions of quality and identification with the brand.

A new report out this week produced by our partners Hook Research and the team at Channel 4 takes a deep dive on ‘purpose driven advertising’ – a natural fit with Channel 4, the station recognised by 61% of UK consumers as the most socially conscious broadcaster in the country. We are proud to have been involved and it is great to see the story getting picked up across the sector from The Drum to Marketing Week to Campaign.


Signify’s role in the work was to look at five specific campaigns and work out why some had more online impact than others. Our analysis was based on how far those campaigns were covered in mainstream media, and how extensively that coverage was shared. We then looked at what values and qualities most appealed to viewers. The work took us outside our media bubble where brands are generally praised for trying anything new and into the world of real consumers who ignored most of the campaigns but had strong positive reactions to the stuff that challenged them especially Maltesers Lighter Side of Disability and Bodyform’s Blood Normal. See all the ads below this post.

From our point of view the most interesting aspect of the work was the contrast between live reaction to ads, and societal impact. The most effective campaign by far was Bodyform with over a hundred articles across the press and hundreds of thousands of shares. By contrast Lynx’s OK For Guys commercial was loved by viewers in focus groups, but had far less cultural impact. The ad is fantastically shot and scripted, but considering it is meant to be ‘woke’ it has a lack of new or challenging ideas. Of course it is OK for guys to be gay! Come on.

Hook and Channel 4’s final report included our digital insight, plus focus groups, a huge online survey and interviews with over 60 agency staff to understand the challenges and requirements for socially conscious content. The final output will help Channel 4 to guide partners through the expectations of the viewing public and how to surpass them and do justice to the issues close to their heart.

Sam Harris, Insights and Engagement Director at Hook Research told us “This study was a great example of using public reaction to contrast with industry opinion and uncover the common elements that really define a successful and authentic campaign. If you are going to be woke you need to know why you are doing it and have something new to say.”

Read more on the excellent Hook Research blog. And if you found this interesting please let us know and/or give us a follow on Twitter or LinkedIn.