TIPTOEING THROUGH THE POLITICAL TIDAL WAVE – podcast transcript

Jessica Kingman
Hello, everyone, and welcome to The Richards Group Digital Trends podcast. I’m your host and Digital Strategy Group head, Jessica Kingman, and in each episode, I’ll be diving into one of our 10 Digital Trends for 2020. Today I’m talking with brand manager, Luke DaMommio, about his trend, Tiptoeing Through the Political Tidal Wave, practical guidance for brands navigating the inescapable political context of the 2020 media landscape. Hi, Luke.

Luke DaMommio
Hi, I think I should have a longer title.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, next time, you should probably work on making it three lines of my piece of paper. Most of these podcasts, I’m kind of starting off by asking our writers what piqued their interest in their specific topic, but I think yours is probably just as simple as the fact that you own a calendar. But I’m interested in what your trend actually is and why advertisers, clients, and brands should care?

Luke DaMommio
I think one of the biggest pieces is just that the political conversation in 2020 is going to be massive. We’ve already seen to-date twice as many TV ads now than at this point in the 2016 election, and in September alone, presidential hopefuls had spent over 60 million on Facebook and Google ads. So, really, it’s just that political conversation reaction and coverage are as inescapable online as they are offline. And brands need to be prepared to (a) be involved in case you get pulled into this conversation, whether you want it to or not, and then (b) be prepared to hop in intentionally and potentially capitalize on this conversation.

Jessica Kingman
So with the approaching election, how do you expect to see brands react in the new political landscape?

Luke DaMommio
Yeah, so I think a lot of brands are going to want to stay silent on anything political, and I really do understand why I think that they’re going to view their messaging as an escape from anything political. But the reality is that if consumers are consuming your advertising, they’re likely not going to be able to escape it anyway. So I think in the article, I dive into these kind of different pieces that you should need to be able to check the box to be able to hop into this space. But I think that brands should react maybe a different way – instead of staying silent, they should hop in and participate. But at the very least, I think that they need to be prepared to participate in case they have to.

Jessica Kingman
So last year, Rhonda Contreras and Corey Green wrote about brand actions and the need for brands to make a stance, whether you’re Domino’s and you’re out there paving potholes in the road, or you’re CVS pulling cigarettes out of stores, but it seems to me that you’re actually advocating for brands to make a much more political stance, and I’m interested in why that is.

Luke DaMommio
Yeah. So for 2020, I think the reason that I’m saying to go political is because that’s where the contextual relevancy will be. Your advertising will be alongside this conversation, likely that will make it seem really natural in the flow of a consumer’s daily consumption. So I think it’s kind of just taking that societal stance a step further into politics, but they’re really not terribly different. The idea of conscious consumerism is, it gets thrown a lot, thrown around a lot, because people really do want to know more and more what brands stand for. So as the product offerings have kind of been democratized a bit, how you make your product, how you source the materials, how you provide your service, why you provide your service is becoming more and more important, and if you can pivot that a little bit into a political stance that’s authentic, then I think you potentially have a nice win in 2020.

Jessica Kingman
Do you think that there is a line in the sand for brands when it comes to this political stance? Or do you think that there are areas perhaps that consumers don’t really care what a brand stance is?

Luke DaMommio
I definitely think that there’s a line in the sand, and I think something that is missed in all this is that there is a real business perspective that has to be taken into consideration. You have to look at your target audience and see how you think, as much as you can predict, they will react to this message. Because as much as consumers might want the stance to be just the stance for the stance’s sake, you can’t alienate 60 percent of your target. So I think that there definitely is a line in the sand. And I think that as long as you’re taking a stance that is authentic to your brand, then you’re going to be in good shape, because then you can support it. I think one of the biggest things is if I go onto Glassdoor for a company, and they have reviews that are prevalent of mentions of gender discrimination, and then for Women’s History Month, which I think is in March, they decided to change their logo and make a few posts on LinkedIn, it feels really, really disingenuous. And that’s where you run the risk for backlash. So you really have to take a look as a brand at yourself first, and then you can kind of figure out where that line in the sand is.

Jessica Kingman
There’s one section of your trend that reminded me of the book title and off-quoted line from Marshall McLuhan of “the medium is the message,” and we’ve seen backlash against brands who choose intentionally or unintentionally to advertise on platforms like Breitbart and Fox News. So do you think that it’s enough of a brand stance to choose to or not to advertise on platforms that may espouse some of this inflammatory content or propaganda?

Luke DaMommio
No, I think that’s table stakes. Because most of our brands now have whitelists and blacklists for different websites. We know who we don’t want to be on and who we’re okay being on, and it’s different for different brands. But if you advertise on Tucker Carlson vs. The Daily Show, that says something about your brand, Breitbart vs. Huffington Post, that says something about your brand. But really, when it comes to the medium being the message, I totally agree, but you have to, I think everyone kind of has those whitelist and blacklist in as table stakes. Then you’ve got to take it a step further if you want to be considered being involved, because the reality is when it comes to being on a different medium, you don’t really tout that as a thing I did – it’s only going to come back to you as backlash if you’re on the wrong spot.

Jessica Kingman
I want to circle back to something that you said about taking a stance in an authentic way. And one of the ways that you’ve mentioned to basically make a stand authentically is looking back at who your company is, right? And a point that you bring up in your trend is founders or in the case of Daryl Morey, a central employee of the brand, and how their actions can have some unintended consequences. So how do you, if you’re a brand, rectify the actions of someone who is associated with your company with what may be contradictory to a company mission or brand’s dance?

Luke DaMommio
Yeah, I think it’s important to note that brands have a lot of different people who make up their companies, and it should be okay allowing them to take certain stances and having personal beliefs that don’t reflect the company. So that is okay. At the same time, the NBA and Daryl Morey was a really good example of how brands need to be prepared for this situation to happen. Because the NBA by no means was asking for this to come upon themselves. And if I was the NBA, I would take a really hard look at our brand vision, what is it that we are called to do? And it should be ingrained in everything that they do. So the NBA has been one of the most outward leagues in supporting social justice issues, and all these different perspectives that their players have and allowing them the freedom to wear different shirts during warmups and to take these stances really outwardly that most leagues have not been okay with. And so the brand vision for the NBA to me would say, we should support Daryl Morey, it can be his perspective – it cannot be our perspective. But at the same time, we should not be trying to silence him. They backpedaled on saying that they were trying to silence him, but it was too late. It already became inauthentic. So being prepared to make sure and take that stance directly is really important.

Jessica Kingman
I want to talk a little bit about two terms that you bring up in your trend, the first being boycotting, which I think we are all familiar with. The second being buycotting, the act of actually buying a product because the brand makes a stance that you personally agree with. My question for you is, isn’t it just easier to abstain from a behavior than actually create a behavior? And if you are a brand, you know, how do you encourage buycotting beyond just making a stance itself?

Luke DaMommio
Boycotting is definitely easier than buycotting. And I think just as consumers, listeners listening to this, you can just tell that for yourself that abstaining from doing something is a lot easier than doing something for the right reason. So one company that I like to look at that is just a personal example is Seventh Generation. They’re a – I use their dishwashing detergent, right? And it’s a little bit more expensive, and I actually think they’re owned by Unilever. But they have a mission of providing, like, environmental safe practices and all these different pieces, and so I’m willing to buycott that brand over another brand because the environment means enough to me. And that’s not to say it doesn’t mean enough to people who don’t buy Seventh Generation. However, what it does mean is that maybe I am more likely to do that with dishwasher detergent than I am with a car. And so I think you have to look at that from your brand and say, okay, what I have, but what product I’m offering is more likely to lean to a buycott than it is to a boycott. And you can kind of make that decision there.

Jessica Kingman
So one of the things that struck me is I think there are a lot of brands out there who can dig into their target audience, see what their affinities or interests are, vs. brands who may just be really just taking a stance that is meaningful to them, regardless of whether or not it is, you know, necessarily within their target audience’s interest. So do you mind just talking a little bit about the difference between those brands who are just doing really smart positioning vs. those are really taking a perhaps provocative social stance or political stance?

Luke DaMommio
The more provocative social or political stance is really what I’m talking about. That is the crux of it because those brands are not worried about that stance having as much negative backlash as they are worried about taking the stance; the stance is important enough. And the reality is the consumer can tell when the stance is important enough vs. when you’re just being strategic. So I think being strategic is smart, and thinking about how your audience is going to take these different messages and finding creative ways to take your stance. However, at the end of the day, if that makes you turn the dial a little bit too much to being inauthentic, then you’ve lost us, you’ve lost the consumer. And so I think taking an actual stance is really important.

Jessica Kingman
So I want to talk about the Nike’s Dream Crazy that feature Colin Kaepernick, and it’s obviously the most well-known example of a brand really taking a political stance in the past year or so. And I personally think that it was brilliant. It gave me goosebumps, you know, as soon as it popped up in my feed. But I think that one of the more nuanced backlashes that we saw was against the ethics of Nike’s factories overseas. So do you think like that? Do you think that factors like this are things that brands should consider when deciding to take a stance against or for a political action?

Luke DaMommio
I think that companies definitely need to take into consideration their own history when taking a stance. I think the reason it worked for Nike is because despite not being a perfect company by any stretch of the imagination, they have stood for the type of social justice issues they were discussing for much of their long history. I think one of the first ads that was kind of similar to the Nike Colin Kaepernick ad was in the ’80s or so. So they’ve been standing for these types of social justice issues for a long time. If Nike was to put out an ad about labor forces and different aspects of that, they’d probably have a big problem. So I think that backlash was (a) warranted, but (b) small in comparison to the massive amount of credit they got for that conversation. And I think that was calculated; I think they knew that was a risk and that they knew that the reward was likely going to outweigh it.

Jessica Kingman
I think Nike is also one of the clearest examples of the buycotting vs. the boycotting, right? We saw their stock take an immediate dip following the Dream Crazy launch, but since then, it’s really prospered. I’m just kind of interested in your perspective on kind of the response that we saw from that campaign.

Luke DaMommio
Yeah, I think it was really great that they did not back down. I think that’s one of the biggest issues that we see is that people just get too scared too quickly. And by people, I mean brands get too scared too quickly, and then apologize, which then just waters down or kind of to half-step the stance back, which again just waters down and muddies the message. Nike was not going to do that. And so what happened is they ended up getting a bunch of brand advocates, some of which maybe they paid for, but a lot of which they didn’t, you know. You had massive celebrities, and then just massive amounts of people supporting Nike, in that instance. So I think they did a really good job of making the stance, and they knew that they were going to stand by it, no matter what the backlash happened was.

Jessica Kingman
I’m interested in another example that you put in your trend, the Jeep example. And the reason that I’m so interested in it is that it seemed to make more of a “we’re all in this together” type statement vs. asserting the brand’s beliefs on one side of the spectrum vs. another. Do you think that that example pushed hard enough against the tension that consumers want their brands to stand for something?

Luke DaMommio
I think that they did a really good job because they also intersected it at the right time; it was during the Super Bowl lead-up. So football was on the mind. And they were talking about the national anthem, and the big conversation was about kneeling or not kneeling during the national anthems. They had enough contextual relevancy to where it really propped up the advertising. But at the same time, I’d imagine that they looked at their consumers and their audience and said, okay, we can’t alienate half of our audience, regardless of how we feel by saying you should or should not kneel during the national anthem. And maybe the stance is, which I think is a fair stance, you can have an opinion that you should or should not kneel during the national anthem, but it doesn’t make you any better or worse than the other side. So that really is a stance in its own, and I think they did a really nice job of not feeling like they were pandering to the middle, but taking the middle stance.

Jessica Kingman
I want to switch gears just a little bit. We’ve talked a lot about brands making an individual stand, brands taking a very specific and calculated risk, but one of the things that you mentioned is there’s also the opportunity of an industry leading a stance. So I want to talk about Harry’s vs. Gillette and whether you felt like the kind of men’s healthcare industry, if you will, if that’s an applicable and appropriate way for brands to make a stance where we see kind of Harry’s leading the way and then Gillette kind of on the back-end, also kind of following in the wake of Harry’s.

Luke DaMommio
Yeah, I think men’s healthcare can do a couple of really interesting things. And I think Harry’s did it a lot better than Gillette did. And I just quickly looked at the YouTube sentiment, and Harry’s received a 94 percent positive remarks about it; Gillette only has 35 percent. So I’d say the public agrees. It’s not just my opinion that Harry’s did a better job. But for men’s healthcare, you can take the stance that Harry’s did, that being a man is a lot of different things now. In the past, we’ve seen being a man be a very straitlaced type of person and now being a man has a lot more leeway. Gillette’s ad seemed really pandering, while Harry’s ad seemed really honest and heartwarming. One of the things I’d love to see from a men’s healthcare brand is to partner with another men’s healthcare brand and take an even bigger stance, maybe donate to a certain cause that has an impact in this way, or make a combined piece of advertising that shows that you guys are really all in this together to try to change the landscape of how men act in the world in 2020 and beyond.

Jessica Kingman
I want to talk about a word you’ve been mentioning, which is pandering, and you bring this up in your trend a little bit, but you kind of say it more as an addendum to another point, but you briefly mentioned brands changing their logos during Pride Month. I think this year especially there was a lot of backlash against rainbow washing, or even just brands largely trying to tap into a specific niche. So when we think about it, and this word is very overused, but how do brands authentically tap into a community that has worn a particular battle flag for decades?

Luke DaMommio
I think it’s about not looking at the different political stances that are out there and saying, okay, this is the one that I want to take because it is going to be the easiest for us, or it’s just changing a logo, or we think this target audience will be really receptive to this quick little message. I think that’s where it comes back to this authenticity of saying, okay, this company, we believe X, Y, and Z, and we tout this over and over again, we believe this, we are all marching to the same drum. So then we can take this stance authentically, and then hopefully that group will latch on to it. But you also don’t get to tell that group what to do. They can choose to or not to latch on. But when you do these different advertising messages authentically, the odds of them agreeing and supporting you are much higher. Because I think we tend to see consumers as numbers on a screen in a lot of ways and kind of forget about the fact that it’s just a lot of real people. It’s a lot of different real people looking at your advertising. So, matter of fact, with the LGBTQ example, there might be some people of the LGBTQ community who don’t agree with you. And there might be some that do agree; you also just don’t get the cosign of the entire community because you changed your logo. So I think it’s just really taking a stance that’s authentic to you, and then the rest will follow. And if it doesn’t, you don’t really get to decide that.

Jessica Kingman
Cool. So to read more about Luke’s trend, Tiptoeing Through the Political Tidal Wave, as well as other trends we predict will make an impact in the advertising landscape in 2020, please go to trends.richards.com, Luke, thank you very much.

Luke DaMommio
Thank you.

 

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