If you have spent the last few months living on Mars, you probably will not be aware of today’s US Election (November 3).
For the rest of us, it has been in our faces for some time now; an ever-present feature of the news cycle, peppered across our social media feeds and a topic of (socially-distanced) and sometimes fraught conversations with friends, family and colleagues. Donald Trump has been a virtually unavoidable presence in the lives of us all these last four years. Bigly.
The American election tells us so much about marketing. And not all of it is pretty.
Firstly, it dominates political strategy and spending. An eye-watering $14 billion is set to be spent on the Trump and Biden campaigns combined, a record that will more than double the spending on the 2016 election. Much of the spending is on social media. You may have joined Facebook not long after it launched in 2004. Perhaps you even “threw a sheep” or “poked” an old school friend?
Back then, it was unthinkable that Facebook and other social platforms, especially Twitter, would become such major players on the political landscape. But social media’s incredible breadth of reach, its ability to target demographics with specific messaging and – most worryingly – its relative lack of regulation over content have made it THE critical battleground.
It has made the environment more challenging for the more tightly regulated traditional media, who have had to adapt their own tactics with a multi-platform approach.
It is hard to imagine that someone like Donald Trump, with no political experience, could be elected the leader of the free world in a time before social media. It gave him a platform to build an audience, that he would have been unable to do otherwise.
It is also a reflection of the celebrity-obsessed cultures we inhabit. Trump’s celebrity from shows like “The Apprentice” gave him a currency of credibility that an equally – or even more – successful businessman with no public profile would not have. It is by no means a new phenomenon. But it is still a strange feature of human psychology that we will listen to and be led by people who have achieved fame and notoriety, even when they communicate on a subject they have little or no expertise on.
Another huge lesson from Trump is the power of simple, effective messaging. Like it or not, “Make American Great Again” is one of the most successful slogans in political history. It’s a simple four-word phrase that is both provocative and memorable. It cuts through to the audience and speaks over the constant noise of messaging we all navigate online and offline. There is undoubtedly a real ugliness to US Elections, more so in recent years.
But if you can bear to watch, there are marketing lessons to be drawn for businesses of all sizes.
This is about way, way more than marketing. Let’s get that clear right from the get go.
Since the shocking death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA last month, Black Lives Matter and campaigns for racial equality have taken on a new momentum.
The surge from the grass roots upwards has put the public and private sectors, both already struggling with the global pandemic, off guard.
Like it or not, people look to and expect the businesses and brands they choose to consume to reflect them in some way. We engage with brands who we have some degree of empathy with, be it consciously or subconsciously.
As a consequence, Governments and the corporate world have felt compelled to publicly react to an international social movement. It has created some uncomfortable conversations internally and externally for businesses and brands. Not all have handled it well.
It has shone a light on them. Are they in step with society? Do they reflect the values of their customers?
Coffee chain Starbucks had an uncomfortable ride, publicly supporting the movement whilst placing an internal ban on staff wearing any accessories that supported Black Lives Matter. A position they have since backtracked from.
Cosmetics giant L’Oreal were also widely criticised, aligning their brand tagline with the movement by posting “SPEAKING OUT IS WORTH IT” on social media platforms, prompting backlash from model Munroe Bergdorf. Again, they retreated.
Perhaps, the most prominent mistake came from a Canadian dessert company who misguidedly launched a Black Lives Matter Gelato. They faced an inevitable outcry with accusations of commoditisation of the movement.
In contrast, public body Sport England took a more considered tone. There was no knee jerk reaction, allowing time to listen, reflect, show some self-awareness and most importantly, put into place actions as a priority over words.
Staying with fitness and leisure, Joe Wicks – unofficially appointed ‘national treasure’ status following his free online PE lessons during the pandemic lockdown – felt compelled to speak out. Typically few would expect a YouTube fitness coach to speak out on social issues. But is silence no longer acceptable?
The Black Lives Matter movement has accelerated some uncomfortable conversations for the public and private sector and it has not all been very pretty to watch.
Were some jumping on the bandwagon in order to optimise brand exposure? Or did they believe that they were using their social standing to try and encourage change? Were their intentions good or were they just trying to find a pace for their brand on top of the news agenda?
Should we, Fruit Marketing, even be blogging about this? Don’t we seek to benefit from publicly discussing the main issue of the day? It’s a valid question we have asked ourselves.
The one conclusion we can draw is that no organisation – public or private – should be reacting to this issue purely on the basis of it trending on twitter. Instead, it should be a time for acknowledgement, internal reflection and words supported by actions. Not great for a hashtag, but for a better future.