For many it was a poignant moment, a reset from the last four years of reality TV-type political drama. For others, a much-needed moment of calm, positivity and hope in a country and indeed a world, that has seen more division, loss and pain in the last year than any recent time in memory.
Whatever your point of view, one thing is certain. Joe Biden’s inauguration was loaded with uncompromisingly emotional rhetoric and performances, particularly from the outstanding Amanda Gorman, that captured the cultural mood of the times.
On an otherwise gloomy Wednesday in 2021, the year we all stepped into hungry for change but discovered more of the same, there was a palpable sense of relief at hearing, at last, some hope shining bright from the ‘president for all Americans’ and his inauguration ceremony.
As I watched, a few things jumped out at me. Our passion is for big, populist, democratic brands and in what might be perceived as a criminally reductive way of looking at the inauguration, I couldn’t help but note down some lessons on how we can work better and with more compassion as creative businesses and people, and how we do better in creating work that means something to the audiences we serve, as we collectively move into another challenging, but thankfully, now hope-filled year.
First...Rise to the new emotional bar
‘We can do this if we open our souls, instead of hardening our hearts’ (Biden)
Biden is the right-brain president to Trump’s left-brain. He is unifying through feeling. Establishing his presidency as different and distinctive from the immediate past. There’s no doubt Trump also knew how to appeal to feeling, but he triggered and incited negative, violent feeling, and his personal-brand roots, of course, are based in getting what you want, on ‘winning’, no matter the cost or who suffers as a result.
Biden is unsurprisingly playing his point of difference by upping the ante on emotion; he’s lit the torch of hope and optimism. He doesn’t just want to reach people’s hearts. He wants to touch their souls! Wow. Big job.
But this emotional heft is fitting for the time. We all know and feel we’re living through a period of heightened emotion. The world is suffering. The world is looking for salve.
So in this world of heightened emotion, as creatives and marketers, where do we fit in? Is the role of brands now to touch people’s souls not touch their hearts? I think probably not, for the majority of brands. But what we as brand folk are likely to have to do, is to work even harder to make people feel something. To raise a smile, to deliver value that’s genuinely needed, to listen to what people are feeling and respond in an appropriate way. To build connections from elegant and empathetic, yet bold and brilliant insights.
Take Tesco and their wonderfully democratic insight that everyone’s on the naughty list; or McDonald’s Reindeer Ready’s Inner Child reluctant to let go of childish joy, an insight that resonates not just with kids, but with everyone lamenting the lost joy of earlier (pre-Covid) times.
The best of our industry’s output has always been built on rich understanding of people, but the brands who are winning right now are without doubt, reeling in feeling.
Second...Be one of the bright spots
‘There is always light if we are brave enough to see it. There is always light if we are brave enough to be it.’ (Amanda Gorman)
Amanda Gorman was amazing for so many reasons. The embodiment of youth, struggle, diversity, talent, individuality, vision... the voice of a new era.
Every word of her poem was enviably rich in meaning. But perhaps for brands, some of her most powerful lines (above) captured the notion we can all do our bit to imagine, and make happen, a better world.
Brands as beacons is not a new thought, but what does it mean today for brands to be the light?
We’re all hungry for bright spots amidst the gloom and the monotony. Stretching from purpose to function, and from joy to utility, brands can offer people the light both meaningfully or frivolously. We should be asking ourselves what we can do to help our brands create bright spots in everyone’s days, whether leaning to utility like Heinz to Home. Delivering joy through utility as with Oreo’s Stay Home, Stay Playful. And sometimes just pure delight and joy with AA’s Tucker reminding us of the feeling of freedom.
In a time of new democracy, and a world of turmoil, both Biden and Gorman’s words can give new potency and momentum for us as creatives and marketers, and indeed the brands we work with, to enrich their emotional connection with people and find ways to be a moment of positive feeling in people’s days.
Big populist brands can bring people together by being brave, bold and above all... bright.