There are some brand-led movements masquerading as campaigns that, for me, don’t quite cut it (Kellogg’s and their #StrengthIs). There are also some truly delightful campaigns that have created movements as a result. This Girl Can, Small Business Saturday, and REI with their Black Friday piece last year.
You only have to look at industry papers from the IPA to see that there is a reason for all this emotional stuff getting into our marketing messaging. In a recent article, my colleague, and leading scrutineer, Nick Barthram, reported on the latest findings of the IPA report into creativity and business effectiveness in marketing and how emotion-based campaigning can cut through.
But does that mean that everything has to have a cause, a PR hook or a raison d’être to cut through? Or does it mean a race to the bottom, where the last possible partnership gets snapped up by the most desperate brand? It depends on the space in which you try to play or instigate a groundswell of consumer support.
Politics by its very nature is a movement. Campaigns are often the heartland of politics when we get into an election cycle. But should brands see politics as an opportunity and play in the crowded space of political discourse? Especially when it’s as divisive as the recently concluded US presidential race? New Balance are certainly finding themselves backed into a corner for holding a viewpoint that aligns one way but not the other.
Many brands don’t want to advertise around political news, lest they become associated with a polarizing topic like immigration or religion. And politically themed ads can risk being drowned out by the glut of political messages out there.
For many, including the judgemental types at Cannes, the stand-out creative of this now-concluded US election cycle came from a brand that was timely with its content offering, finding a gap in the noise to cut through. Netflix and their Frank Underwood ‘FU2016’ campaign ad spot during the Super Bowl positioned entertainment as reality. Perhaps it was testament to the power of the character, the strength of the scriptwriting and the fact it was coming from a position of entertainment, but the lack of friction caused by positioning this fictitious character as a likely candidate for the election afforded this perfect opportunity to trail the new series.
Don’t mix your drinks with politics
Also at last year’s Super Bowl, Bud Light went big on riding the wave of election-based conversation and built out a campaign that sought to position a mock political party within the overall election discourse – the Bud Light Party, if you’re asking. In a world of content studios, in-house journalists and scriptwriters, the campaign had the potential to resonate and capture those moments that mattered, and react to the ‘real’ campaign with ‘hot-takes’ and insightful interjections. But for all the Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer-fronted fanfare, it fell flat. Their sales did too.
An article in Ad Age gets forensic on the campaign detail, quoting former Anheuser-Busch Chief Creative Officer Bob Lachky:
People don’t care about political parties at this stage of the game… It [the campaign] has nothing to do with selling beer… Immediately you are transporting the consumer into the Trump versus Hillary debate or any number of senate debates or gubernatorial debates that are going on right now across the country. It’s totally into that generic wasteland of political advertising.
The brazen assumption that no matter what your politics, everybody can agree that beer is good seemed a somewhat weak movement to instigate. When you play in the space of making people think further about their politics, they will almost certainly think a little further about their choice of beer if both streams of discourse are presented in parallel.
Movements trump campaigns
In the cold light of day, the people having exercised their democratic right, and with all the analysis of policy, people and possibility complete, President-elect Donald Trump articulated what had just happened to America, the world, and what the last 18 months of the election cycle had been: ‘Ours was not a campaign but a movement of people who want a better future.’
It is hard to see how this isn’t the truest thing he has ever said. The Republican took the opportunity to create a groundswell of interest in a collective identity. To stir up emotions and feeling and to distil that down to a potent sense of belonging, not around policy but identity. The Democratic line went on micro-policy detail and counter-argument to the Republican movement momentum, getting bogged down in the detail that did not resonate with the wider public. The substance got lost in the noise of emotion, and the emotion was a greater hook for the American people. The rest is now, for better or worse, history. But this is what a movement gets you over a campaign.