We live in complicated times.
There is no question that the rhetoric and rise of Donald Trump has left the nation – indeed, the world – breathless with angst. Our worst expectations for a coarsened body politic have come to pass. It’s gotten ugly out there. On the one hand, we can all acknowledge that Trump’s campaign has given voice to the millions of Americans displaced and discouraged by a generation’s worth of changes in trade policy and technology that left them essentially derailed, even as “coastal elites” continued to thrive. On the other hand, did they have to pick Donald Trump as their flag bearer?
It was in this frame of mind that I read with interest the recent NY TIMES article, “Corporations Grow Nervous About Participating in Republican Convention.”
If asked by a client whether to sponsor the GOP convention, my response would be a hearty “NFW.” To be affiliated with that crass show of mean-spiritedness would never be worthwhile. But you probably already knew that I was a card-carrying Obama voter, so maybe that doesn’t surprise you?
The thing is, I’d offer the same advice to brands considering a sponsorship of the DNC Convention.
I believe that more than ever before, political interests that publicly intersect with corporate branding represent an increasingly bad idea. America has achieved historic levels of partisanship; the chart at the top of this post shows this trend, via Pew Research. Allying yourself with Democrats or Republicans risks vilification by the opposing side. Trying to split the difference by appealing to both parties is seen as wishy-washy (at best). It’s a lose-lose for brands.
As you no doubt recall, two weeks ago Microsoft unleased an Artificial Intelligence bot on Twitter, and within 24-hours it had gone from tweeting empowering messages like “Humans are awesome!” to “Hitler was right, I hate the Jews.” The actual story behind the AI bot’s descent into hell is a bit more complicated than the headlines would have you believe, but it’s a telling signal that should be heard by brands worldwide. “Online America” is in a dark mood right now. It feels like our national soul hangs in the balance. It’s not the right time to pick sides. It’s not the right time to start hawking potato chips.
For brands, it’s probably time to sit on the sidelines when it comes to political brand connections. Maybe eat some chips and enjoy the show. Rubbernecking is free, and no one will blame you for it.
As is his wont, Tom Foremski has once again inspired me to take (digital) pen to (virtual) paper; this time in response to his recent, somewhat wistful article: “Blogging failed to challenge mainstream media.” I have seen various responses to Tom’s post, the key theme being: “did we (early bloggers) make a difference?” It’s easy to suggest, for example, that the recent rise in a brand’s need to use paid media strategies to gain more visibility and engagement is yet another sign that the good guys lost; that the Cluetrain ran off the tracks.
Did it? Did blogging fail to make a difference?
A few people have asked my opinion on the big Publicis Ominicom merger news from this past weekend. There has been plenty of reaction, and a lot of smart thinking about the deal has been published in outlets ranging from Richard Edelman’s blog to PRWEEK to the Economist. My reaction is that of a small business owner who vies with these giants.
I can’t help but see choppiness in the waters ahead, from client conflicts to employee churn to PR playing second fiddle for many brands under the merged company’s umbrella.
One of the tenets we try to teach at SHIFT is “Underpromise, Overdeliver.” There is nothing more frustrating to a client than expecting the moon, because they’ve been told to expect the moon … but getting a slice of green cheese, instead. Far better for the client to be sold on the moon-like benefits of a green cheese slice … but then being handed the actual g-dmn moon!
This principle applies to all parts of life. For example, our house in California has been empty for a good, long while. We had the genius idea to have the place remodeled while we were still living in Boston. “We’ll move back to our dream home!” The contractor agreed time-and-again, all along the way, that he’d be all finished up in time… Fast forward to today: we are still a couple of weeks out from completion. Now, despite the fact that we love all the work that’s been done, we’re still upset. Every subcontractor that walks in the door is a reminder that he shoulda been done with XYZ project weeks ago; why is he still here, why is any one of ‘em still here, still not done?
I won’t bore you with the details of the situation or how we’re handling it… it just occurred to me that “I would never run my business this way,” which led me to remember that we quite specifically talk about this “Underpromise, Overdeliver” concept in our training at the agency. That is not to say that there are never disappointments, or that sometimes we don’t get overeager about an idea that ultimately doesn’t zing like we’d hoped. It just means we try to plan for failure, to adjust for it, and to make up for it when possible. The goal is “surprise and delight” vs. “overpromise and underdeliver.”
The gulf between a “wow” and a “sigh” is not easily bridged.
Friend and colleague Jeremiah Owyang has been talking about his newest framework, the collaborative economy, where consumers provide services directly to other consumers, sidestepping normal supply chains and business processes. He asked SHIFT for our thoughts about how marketing and PR fit (if they do) in this new economy, and the SHIFT team was happy to provide some thoughts. Is there a role for marketing and PR in a world where consumers do business with each other? Read the blog post to find out (spoiler: yes, there is a role).