When President Trump won the US National Election, it came as a shock to many around the world. In a talk discussing the fate of American business since the decision, Gerard Baker, Editor in Chief at the Wall Street Journal, asked a distinguished panel what went wrong, how marketers are affected by a country divided, and if advertising should become embroiled in politics.
Shocking political decisions have been sweeping the world since Trump’s election. When it comes to America, it seems there is a clear cultural divide between the cities that run the country (namely, NYC, Washington, LA and San Francisco) and the people who live in between them. This casts questions over whether being out of touch with rural areas has led to a disconnect with people and values that form a majority.
The talk involved a clear debate between CEO of McCann, Harris Diamond, CMO of NFL, Dawn Hudson, and President and Managing Partner of the Stagwell Group, Mark Penn, particularly concerning this topic.
Baker strongly suggested that it goes deeper that a divide between the ‘haves and have nots’, suggesting that in the minds of many on the peripherals of the country, there is a ‘patronising contempt’ for the people of middle America.
He asked the panel if they felt big businesses in general have elite attitudes that are, for example, pro-globalisation, pro-economic integration, pro-immigration. He put forward the point that these views are inclusive and inclusivity is not only different from how the people in middle America think, but looks down on them for not agreeing. This led to the question, how can brands reach people they don’t share values with – particularly if they are actively promoting divisive values?
Diamond argued the point that whilst the individuals at these businesses may hold those views, as marketeers their interests would always be selling to the greatest amount of people and to do that they will completely ignore their own views.
“You can’t confuse what we’re trying to win as marketeers: brand loyalty. Companies have two constituencies - the consumer and their own employees - to address. Talking about values is part of the job.”
Hudson felt that in order for brands to succeed in a socially turbulent environment, it is better to focus on the ‘commonalities’ of consumers as opposed to their differences.
“We put an ad on for the Super Bowl called Inside These Lines, which was about bringing people together and the values in football. Sport is something that has always brought people together and made them forget their differences. It was a top ten ad because of that attitude. Sometimes, it is important to be transparent that there is no right or wrong way to be. We urge people to make a difference in society and to do it in ways that are relevant to that community. We always try to have local conversations when we speak to consumers.”
However, the general consensus was that brands should avoid becoming political – but that value driven brands can work.
“The implications of corporations becoming involved in politics is not good,” says Penn. “If you are a corporation you need to stay far away from politics right now.”
Yet, despite a divided America, it continues to be very economically prosperous. In questions following the talk, Penn made the salient point that ‘America has never been so happy whilst being so unhappy’.