Taking Sides

marketing industry

Decades ago, a man with a harmonica sang, “The times they are a-changin.” It’s true across the country, around the world, even in the marketing industry.

At the risk of sounding like a crone, I remember the days when companies didn’t say who their competitors were in their marketing, they’d just call them the “leading competitor” before stating how the advertiser’s products would get your floors cleaner and your whites whiter.

Today, increasingly more brands are using marketing not only to tout their victories over named competitors, but also as a platform to address the company’s stance on social issues. This is in the hope of forging a stronger connection with like-minded consumers and building brand advocates. Companies are staking a position on social media, to the equal clamor of supporters and dissenters. They’re creating campaigns focusing primarily on an issue, be it the environment or marriage equality, with the brand playing a secondary role.

But the question I ask is this: Is addressing social issues in marketing pioneering or pandering?

Who You Are

For decades brands have associated themselves with consumers’ lifestyles and aspirations, be it athletic, domestic, adventuresome, etc. But the key to successful execution of such a message in the marketing industry is how well it relates to the brand as a whole. If you’re manufacturing the fastest sports cars, suddenly showing a soccer mom loading up the roadster for a Saturday at the fields doesn’t really connect with your corporate identity.

The same applies when a company takes a side on a divisive social issue. If you’re known as an open, liberal company, but suddenly try to ally yourself with a conservative opinion because it’s popular, it will be painfully obvious that you’re just in it for the customer boost.

But the challenge goes even deeper than that. How does the issue connect to your brand as a whole? Tylenol, a company already in many families’ medicine cabinets, recently launched “How We Family,” indicating that they view “family” through a broad lens. I think the idea of keeping your family feeling good, regardless of whom you count under that family umbrella, works for Tylenol. But if you’re just trotting out interracial and same-sex couples to sell burgers or trucks, it may not ring true for the audience. Being inclusive for the sake of checking a box doesn’t really feel like you’re committed to the idea.

Who You Were

It’s important to note that, if your company is considering taking a public stand, you should first review your corporate history. Companies were not always as inclusive in their hiring practices and treatment of employees of different cultures as they are today. If you try to say that you’ve “always included all people” and the opposite is found, it may take a lot of quick-thinking to come out of the situation looking positive.

Who You Can Be

Regardless of personal opinions on an issue, taking a stand as an organization can be a challenge. Whichever side of the issue you’re on, if it’s divisive, you will offend some potential customers, and must be prepared for that.

If you have buy-in from all of the necessary internal parties and your organization is passionate about making this part of your brand identity, it can be done and it can be done well. But it will take a commitment to a quality content strategy to ensure that every message coming out on behalf of your company appropriately reflects the same tone.

If you’re ready to embark on this journey, but want someone in the marketing industry by your side in developing your content strategy, Flying Cork is here. Let’s talk!