I'm feeling like there's some pretty faulty logic happening in this thread. I'm still collecting my thoughts on this, but isn't advertising always reflective or embracing of cultural mores, by necessity? It occurs to me that what many of you are talking about is that it makes you feel uncomfortable when some companies embrace shifting social mores, that they likely feel is reflective of the direction their customer base is going in, faster than other companies. I recall extremely similar conversations in the 1980's about the increase in black actors in commercials. At first, the companies that used black actors were "pandering to political correctness" but as time went on, the companies that DIDN'T use black actors became the conspicuous ones. People used to roll their eyes when there were black characters included in sitcoms or women included (as other than ornamentation) in financial or business advertising because it was seen as political manipulation or kowtowing.
Advertising is always going to be part of "culture wars", or what you might accurately call cultural evolution. Jump onto a cultural shift too soon and you're "politicizing your product". Jump onto it too late and you're a fossil, or worse, a bigot.
No doubt, marketing and advertising plays some role in these cultural shifts of opinion. It's complicated though.
(and I realize this is getting away from the google rainbow doodle, which is less problematic than the other similar marketing+ethics ventures I'm talking about)
I see it this way -- there is a DEMAND for products which "fix the world". People feel a totally reasonable responsibility to improve the world around them. Companies recongize that and market their products in a way designed to make you feel like your purchase is socially and ethically responsible. They want you to feel like you are fulfilling your ethical obligations to the world around you through your purchase. (there's a South Park episode that comes to mind, where people buy hybrid cars and then instantly get very self-superior and fall in love with the smell of their own farts)
One example that pops into mind is this service that is on the radio all the time around here... It's this grocery discount card that is marketed as helping the environment. Because if you use this card, you don't have to clip coupons. That's the whole reason their branding is 100% about being "environmentally friendly". Why? It's not because customers clipping coupons are singlehandedly destroying the environment. It's not because they give any money to environmental causes. It's just a sales gimmick.
(and why, btw, is the onus of change purely on the consumer rather than on the company producing the waste? It's because we all know they're only going to behave ethically when it's profitable -- we expect that if people love clipping coupons, the company isn't going to make an effort to stop printing them)
My company did the same thing... an internal survey indicated that most of us want the company to be more environmentally friendly. The response was to give everybody "WE'RE GOING GREEN" mugs (which I guess means we don't have to use paper cups?), and start a "walk to work" campaign. But it was in name only. The reality was that they held a weekly event where groups of employees walk around downtown during lunch while wearing "We're going green!" t-shirts. I'm pretty sure our levels of corporate waste were unaffected, but employee satisfaction went up. All they did was make us FEEL like they addressed the problem.
That Zizek talk I posted upthread says it well, I think... that we should be wary of products which seem to fulfill our "ethical duties", especially when those companies participate in the harm we're trying to address. Zizek gives an example of Tom's shoes, who at one point offered that for every pair of shoes you buy from them, they will give a pair to a kid in some third world country.
If we really squint at it, this is weird. Because those third world country conditions - where 10 year old kids are stitching together sneakers in some sweatshop in the Honduras -- aren't those conditions CREATED by companies like this? They can only give away a pair of shoes because their production costs are so low. Giving kids shoes is charitable, but it does nothing to address the actual conditions created by rampant capitalism. It prolongs the actual problem by being a false remedy. It's like they have included a half-assed apology for what they are doing as part of the price tag.