PRWeek reports on the findings of a new study that seem to tell marketers to stay away from politics in their message crafting. According to the study, 58% of consumers say they dislike brands getting political with their ads another marketing efforts. The same study says that brands are more willing to speak out on societal and political topics because of the current environment, specifically since Pres. Trump’s inauguration this past January.
There are some numbers in the story about who is more or less likely to buy from a brand that takes a stand on various issues, from LGBTQ to abortion to immigration and everything else.
Those numbers bring into stark relief one glaring fact: Everything is, in some manner, political. While the (very bad) Pepsi ad from a couple months ago with Kendall Jenner solving racism with soft drinks was certainly an overt political statement, so too are Chipotle’s quirky animated videos, at least if you want them to be. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about adverting on racist or otherwise offensive videos and websites, which is a tacit endorsement of those messages, just as removing them from running there is an overt rejections of them. With explicit or implicit, those are still stances being taken.
But is is taking a political stance to include a bi-racial couple in your fast food chain ad? It it political to not? Is it political to just show a white cis male? Is it political if the actor is a trans woman but it’s not referenced in the copy or dialogue?
The reality is all of that is political. All media, including advertising and marketing, is a Rorschach Test that the entire audience projects their opinions and notions on to. Big flashy missteps like Pepsi’s will come to the attention of masses of people. But there are countless other instances where an ad will come under fire because it goes too far in advancing one agenda or not advancing another far enough. If you doubt this, you’re invited to visit the YouTube comments section for roughly any TV commercial. It’s a cesspool of people who believe the inclusion of a bi-racial couple is leading to the downfall of Christian America or who believe that because it was a heterosexual couple it’s not progressive enough.
That means it’s a no-win situation for brand marketers. In this day and age every stance is a political one. There’s no neutral ground. The best you can hope for is to stay on-message and sell your products or make your pitch as effectively as you can while trying to walk a tightrope that’s moving, invisible, and impossible to feel under your feet. You’ll never appease or appeal to everyone or address a truly all-inclusive point of view. All you can hope is to eventually be seen as being on the right side of cultural history and not infect too much repetitional damage along the way.