Advertising is around us every single day. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by advertising or brand messaging. Back in 2017, the American Marketing Association featured an article on their website that stated the average person is exposed to over 10,000 brand messages every day.
Some people may see that 10,000 number and think that it’s too high and impossible to be accurate. Can you imagine what the number is today? I think it’s all too easy to hit 10,000.
Walk into a grocery store or a big box store like Wal-Mart or Target, how many brand images do you see? Listen to the radio, surf the internet, watch tv or stream your favorite show. How many images and messages do you encounter? Heck, walk through your own closet. Own a pair of Adidas running shoes or a Lacoste polo shirt?
Brand imaging and messaging are all around us and unless we actively choose to focus on something specific, most of these messages operate as white noise or background noise. The goal of the advertiser is to get you to focus on the product they are pitching by breaking through that white noise.
Hence, you will frequently find advertisers that will try to create ads that are edgy, flashy, praise-worthy or thought-provoking. These advertisements garner Clio Awards or rack up awards at The Cannes Lions and are exalted by other marketers and advertisers.
Praise v. Sales
The question becomes, is seeking praise and attention from other marketers actually important to the customers and clients who drive sales? For some businesses, when it comes to advertising, they are creating for other marketers and not for their customers.
Recently, in Marketing Week (a UK marketing trade publication), Mark Ritson wrote an article “Marketers praise Burger King but McDonald’s is more deserving.” The article was a fascinating look at how Burger King is winning all sorts of accolades for their advertising, but McDonald’s is garnering more sales when you look at same-store performance over the last 18 months.
Anyone, not living under a rock in 1997 will remember the ubiquitous Taco Bell campaign “¡Yo Quiero Taco Bell!” featuring a very photographic chihuahua named Gidget. The chihuahua became a national icon and was even featured in the 1998 film “Godzilla.” However, in July 2000, Taco Bell dropped the campaign after Q2 same-store sales dropped 6%. “The largest decline in Taco Bell history.”
When it comes to all forms of marketing, including advertising, the questions should remain the same:
1. Who is my customer?
2. How can I either engage my customer to take some sort of action or how do I convert this customer to a sale?
Businesses exist to make a profit.
It’s not a very romantic sentiment, but there it is. If you are not making money, then all the awards and fawning sycophants in the world mean zippo.
The Problem with Millennials as Marketers and Consumers
Nowadays, we also have millennial marketers running around who honestly believe that brands and businesses need to take stands on political, social and religious issues. This is a significant departure from past normal marketing philosophy. For years, marketing consultants have been advising their clients not to wade into “culture wars.”
This phenomenon of taking a position is known as “brand-standing” and is not going to end up anywhere good (in our humble opinion).
AdAge recently published an article on how half of all consumers are all hot and heavy to boycott any business that doesn’t agree with their personal political philosophy. This past summer, Olive Garden had to deal with a threatened boycott because one of its executives donated to the President’s reelection campaign. The donation had nothing to do with Olive Garden or their parent company Darden Restaurants.
The donation was a personal decision by an executive who was well within his right to spend his money however he chooses. Because the Federal Election Commission requires all political donors to disclose their employers, Olive Garden had to spend a lot of time, effort and energy fighting back a story and threatened boycott that they had nothing to do with inciting.
The whole concept of “I can’t work with or buy from anyone who doesn’t think exactly the way I do”, is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.
The Problems with Boycotts
Boycotting a business as a consumer based on perceived ideology is all fine and dandy until it happens to your business. In a free-market society where people have choices, what goes around will eventually come back around. You don’t have to buy from me, but alternatively, I don’t have to buy from you. Now both of us are without sales over a reason that has absolutely nothing to do with the product or service being offered.
And if you do choose not to buy from a company, why the compelling need to entice others to follow in your wake? I haven’t voluntarily been to a movie theater in 4 years, but I don’t feel compelled to tell others to stop going to the movies.
Businesses exist to turn a profit. Your target audience is a finite segment of the population. Every time you take an ideological stand your target audience doesn’t agree with and rejects you, you are contracting your audience, i.e. the people who are willing to buy your product or service.
“Brand-standing”: A Case Study
An excellent example of a brand that lost its focus on the customer was when in January of 2019, Gillette ran a decidedly “woke” campaign that enraged their target audience. We predict this is going to become a case study that business schools will be studying for decades to come on what not to do.
In a video released by Gillette on YouTube that went viral, they decided to tackle the #metoo movement by focusing on “toxic masculinity.” They focused not the product they sell, which is disposable razors, but on ideology. Whatever your thoughts on #metoo and toxic masculinity are, they are irrelevant. The point is what the purchasing public that makes up your audience thinks about those issues.
In this case, the audience backlash was deafening. Millions of men (as well as women) vowed they would never buy a Gillette product ever again. With 48 hours of the video release, the negative comments outweighed the positive comments 10:1.
Two days after the video was initially released, marketers all over the world were going on record stating while we weren’t even two months into the new year, Gillette had their vote for worst campaign of the year.
Intelligent Business Moves
Insulting your audience is never a smart business move!
Especially, when your product is a disposable commodity that can easily be replaced. When it comes to commodities, brand loyalty only goes so far.
During the summer of 2019, it was announced that Gillette was taking an $8billion write-down, around that same time MarketWatch ran an article “Men with beards are taking a heavy toll on the razor industry.” The sub header was “Procter & Gamble blames Gillette’s $8 billion write-down on ‘lower shaving frequency.’”
Here at STCG, our initial reaction upon reading that article was a more explicit variation of “are you freaking kidding me!”
They are blaming an $8billion loss (that’s $8,000,000,000- 9 zeros) on men growing beards, not the fact that they just insulted a majority of their audience by telling them that they are the cause of all the bad things in the world. Instead of celebrating the many wonderful things men have done, they lumped all men into one bucket and tarred them all with the same brush. Those men and women who support them (wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends, etc.) got pissed off.
Millennial marketers need to wake up to some harsh truths.
It becomes a problem, when you insist on turning everything from buying toothpaste to a bowl of spaghetti into a political warzone. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes after you. (Did we learn nothing from 1930’s Germany?)
If you want to be a social justice warrior, fine. That’s your prerogative. But if you enjoy your paycheck, then keep your opinions out of your business. It’s also important to note that the smaller your business is, the more important it is to stay relatively innocuous in the causes your business publicly supports or rejects. Remember, the smaller your target audience gets, the harder it becomes to turn a profit.
If I had been advising Proctor & Gamble, my advice would have been to fire whoever at Gillette was in charge of customer behavior and engagement. A position that is a complete 180° from how their executives have reacted in public comments.
At the end of the day, your business exists to turn a profit, not to win awards and make people feel all warm and fuzzy on controversial topics.
The best way to turn a profit, is to focus on the wants and needs of your target audience and to tailor your advertising and marketing messages to them.
Remember the hare may be flashy, but it’s the slow and steady tortoise that wins the race.
Interested in learning more about how our strategic marketing consulting services or tactical decision-making services can help you define your audience and messaging? Visit us today at https://stcgllc.com
Angela M. Insalaco is the Founder & President of Strategic Tactics Consulting Group, LLC. She is a firm believer that all marketing should be created with the target audience in mind.
 Source: https://www.marketingweek.com/burger-king-mcdonalds/
 Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taco_Bell_chihuahua
© 2019, Angela M. Insalaco. All rights reserved.