Tuesday, October 8

Brands Respond to the Gov't Shutdown

As you've all heard me say over and over, "marketing is a spectator sport," and right now is the equivalent of a major sporting event.  With all the flurry over the government shutdown, it's been fascinating to watch some brands respond to what's going on with all the commentary.

This is a serious matter, no doubt, and we are clearly walking a tightrope by even mentioning the topic.  Politics has long been taboo for brands, but with social media it's a golden opportunity to connect with consumers on a shared platform.  Many brands are jumping into pop culture and news topics like gun control, tax reform, marriage equality, and the like.  The government shutdown is another example of great fodder, so we might as well enjoy it from that perspective.  No disrespect intended to anyone and everyone affected.  We are all affected in one way or another.

While it may seem that anything goes, I do have one rule that any brand must follow if they are going to jump into any news fray:  the messaging and the connection to the topic must be consistent with what the brand is all about.  It simply must make sense coming from the brand, otherwise it's likely to be viewed as insincere and in many cases inappropriate.  In this case, potentially highly inappropriate.

I've noticed a few examples surrounding the government shutdown in the last week that I believe pass this test, without losing their edge ... tied directly to what the brand is all about.  Perfect examples of taking advantage of what's going on in the world, and inserting the brand into the dialogue.

Vibrators.com.  This somewhat unknown brand is offering 200 free vibrators a day to federal employees who register online during the shutdown.  Certainly creative and almost on the line of disrespect, but clearly making a point about both the brand and the shutdown.  Say no more.

Red Bull.  This Twitter ad, to me, is a perfect example of leveraging a brand's core message to what's going on in the news.  The visual speaks for itself, along with the tagline that goes with it:  "We're going in!"

I also noticed a Cover Girl social media campaign titled "Kiss and Makeup" with the Democrat and Republican icons locking lips (perfect connection to their products) and a Denny's message about "not waffling" (that's a product score).  Great fun in both cases.

Not every brand can do it, and many are not willing to take the inherent risk in commenting on a political issue.  Chances are for every person you delight, there's another you turn off.  But that's the risk of marketing anyway, so if it's within your brand character, targeting, and messaging, it's a great way to engage your customers and perhaps pick up a few new ones along the way.  Who knew about vibrators.com until now?

It's times like these when we see creativity shine.  Bravo!  Now get back to work!

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
- President, Cohn & Wolfe NA
- Author, The Experience Effect series
- Professor, NYU
- Contributor, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post

PS - My new book is out!  Big brand theory applied to personal life in The Personal Experience Effect!

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