Wed, 22 Feb 2017 17:00:08 GMT
As the Super Bowl buzz wears off, one thing has become clear: the advertisements ignited a debate about whether or not brands should get political. The reality is that brands have always made political statements and aligned themselves with causes and organisations that they support. For decades, brands have proclaimed their “Made in USA” American pride, celebrated diversity and championed for equality.
It’s not that brands are acting differently, it’s that the contextual environment our brands live in has shifted and is more politically charged and conscious than ever. The real question we should be asking is: in today’s increasingly uncertain and volatile political climate, can a brand avoid being political?
For those of us in healthcare marketing, politics has always been an undercurrent to our business. In pharma, we’ve often focused on the prominence of drug brands instead of manufacturer brands to minimise the effects of policy decisions or political repercussions. And the price-gouging claims don’t seem to be quieting down anytime soon. As health insurers, we’ve cautiously watched the incoming party to gauge how they may change the system, even more so in this past election. Yet, brands have rarely forayed into getting political in their advertising and, instead, are often bending over backwards to make sure they don’t offend anyone.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, healthcare will be in the political spotlight and we, as healthcare marketers, will continue to find ourselves in the middle of a political debate. The fate and outcome of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in the news every day as the fight to repeal, replace, or repair rages on in the halls of congress and among consumers who gather or march in the main streets in every state.
So, can a brand avoid being political? Time will tell, but the sharp rise in emotional tension, underlying implicit and explicit bias, and decreasing levels of tolerance in people have me believing that audiences will see politics even when a brand doesn’t intend to be political. So what do we as marketers do?
Understand that your brand is like a person. It has a personality, character traits, and beliefs. It stands against something while fighting for something. It has a history while it works to build its future. Much like a person, a brand will struggle to be politically agnostic and still be itself.
Know your enemy. As we build brands for our clients, one of the most valuable areas of development is identifying our enemy – what irritates us or stands in our way. This is often a pre-existing belief that we are fighting against. We refer to this as the nerves of our brand. When our nerves are struck, we will often find a need to speak up. By identifying your enemy you’ll know what you stand against, which will help you understand what you stand for.
Fight for people, not parties. Our nation is deeply divided and we often cut that divide along party lines. While this is the simple and easy way to catalogue our differences, politics and policy is not that simple. Don’t align your brand with a party. Align it with people. What causes, beliefs, and concerns do people have regardless of party affiliation? Present your message aligned to these beliefs and concerns, not drawing connections to red or blue parties, and, of course, ensuring alignment with your brand position or enemy.
Your brand wasn’t built for everyone. Brands are developed for certain target audiences. They aren’t created for everyone. Of course as businesses, we’ll welcome any dollar spent, but the strongest brands know exactly whom they serve and are built for them. That is why Airbnb’s ad was so differently received than Budweiser’s. Airbnb spoke to their audience while Budweiser spoke against many of its devoted consumers.
Actions speak louder than words. If you’re going to get political, be willing to back it up. This is always a brand truth, but it is even more important with political messaging and actions. In recent weeks, Lyft has been very vocal about its resistance to the immigration Executive Order. It was very public about its disapproval and made a large donation commitment to the ACLU to support their public opposition. You have to commit from your brands’ leadership to charity contributions in order to support your message and your belief.
This is not the end of the conversation of politics’ role in advertising, or advertising’s role in politics. It’s likely only the beginning given the first few weeks of the new administration, and many businesses will likely be put in positions where they have to get political to protect and defend their business and their brand. It is okay to get political, but follow these tips and be true to your brand. And don’t forget there is no halfway in today’s social media-driven world. So make sure you’re ready to commit.