I’m going to offend you. If not you, the people who live next door to you, or your nephew, or your boss’s mother-in-law. I’m in the marketing business representing a wide array of clients and, no matter how hard we try to avert any political, cultural, gender-specific, sports or cause-related landmine, we are going to step on one sooner or later.
It’s the hyper-politicized, all-on-all-the-time world we live in; a world that marketers are trying really, really hard to navigate. No matter how benign or low-interest your product, be it deodorant, detergent, yoghurt or soft drink, chances are you are going to offend someone, or some group. Chances are, someone or some group will take whatever you do or say relative to your brand or business and blow it up in social mediated commentary that hijacks whatever message you were trying to make.
Given the partisan siege mentality of just about everyone, brands and businesses are in a situation where they have to be not just more sensitive to the nature of what they say in a marketing message, but where they place the message.
This scenario has been brought to life - and Twitter - in any number of cases of late. Choose your favorite. There’s the whole Sean Hannity versus Keurig coffee maker debacle, wherein Hannity supporters tried to outdo each other filming creative ways to destroy their Keurig machines after the company temporarily suspended ads on Hannity’s show after his remarks on the on-going Roy Moore debacle. Or the uproar after Cheerios (Cheerios, for goodness sake!) portrayed a loving, mixed-race family in one of its advertising campaigns. Or the hubbub that occurred after a Microsoft campaign featuring a resourceful teacher who used rap music to teach kids math, was, uh, appropriated by a group of profane rappers for a series of less than kid-friendly YouTube videos.
So what are the smart marketers doing to avert the potential for landmine devastation? How are they looking ahead in order to shift ahead of any possible trouble selling what they sell to the people to whom they want to sell it?
They’re doing what smart marketers have always done. They are focusing relentlessly on their core values – what they stand for – and paying heed to the needs of their most loyal customers. They recognize that if you try to keep all the people happy all the time, you won’t just end up being a mediocre brand or business, you may end up being nothing. Relative to the Microsoft case mentioned above, listening to Kathleen Hall, Microsoft’s VP of Brand, Advertising and Research tell the story about the math teacher at a recent industry conference, she made clear her company’s position on partisan politics and marketers. “You don’t react, wait for the situation to define your actions. We are true to our values. We believe in empowering people to do great things. We have principle-based guidance. So it’s not about whether it’s Will & Grace, or South Park, or Breitbart News or Fox News. It’s about what do we believe.”
Partisan politics is only getting more so. The landscape will only continue to get more challenging for marketers who will only find it more difficult to anticipate what conflagration their messages – or their choice of media – will incur. Just as always, but now even more so, consumers will use brands as a way of showing which side of the aisle they are on. Identity politics has always been a part of consumerism.
The reality for marketers in this era of shifting ideas and fracturing opinions is actually a time-tested reality: Focus on what you stand for, stand up to it, and stick with it. Authenticity and delivering on your promise to your core customers is what good business and branding is all about.