DONALD TRUMP IS MY FAULT (AND YOURS)!
Are short attention spans responsible for the rise of Donald Trump?
And, if so, is it partially our fault as an industry?
In the world of advertising, we’ve all come to bemoan the decline of the copywriter. We reflect on the old VW and Kodak ads and long for the return of that level of storytelling in advertising. We mourn the loss of traditional newspapers and the ascendance of listicle-based journalism. We laugh (and cower) at the fact that sound-bite driven politics is taking over.
Consumers value influence, not information. Style, not reason. “Truth” has become a relative concept and “the opposing viewpoint” has become ubiquitous even when it’s demonstrably untrue. That allows someone like “The Donald” to garner a huge following even when the “facts” he cites are completely wrong (in 2015 FactCheck.org named Trump “the King of the Whoppers”, finding a full 77% of his claims to be false, from the Muslims celebrating 9/11 in New Jersey to the claim that the Mexican government is sending rapists to the US). Candidates are now in the business of marketing, not governing.
But isn’t it, at a base level, our fault? The candidates have taken their cues from us and the way we do business. Over the years, we’ve systematically whittled our collective attention span down to that of a hummingbird.
As an industry, we got enthralled with our new graphics tools in the ‘90s. We worshiped at the altar of Adobe. Using Photoshop and stock photography we could create any look we could imagine. We started to move further from strategy-based marketing and towards slick images that could do our talking for us. SKYY Vodka was actually a great example of a brand that came to prominence on the power of the images that they created, with no rationale behind the brand or its differentiation.
Then came PowerPoint, which really took off in the mid ‘90s when it was bundled with Microsoft Office. Even the strategists and account planners were now dumbing down their arguments into 4-5 bullet points (that could make great leaps of reason look profound and rational). Way back in December 2003, The New York Times Magazine featured an article entitled “PowerPoint Makes You Dumb” that outlined the fact that over-simplifying information in PPT format can be, frankly, dangerous. It pointed to Columbia Space Shuttle accident as an example. The engineers’ attempt to simplify complex scientific data to be presented on a PowerPoint slide allowed for important red flags to be missed. That was over 12 years ago and most businesses are still relying on PowerPoint today.
The rise of social media hasn’t helped us think deeper, either. We have 140 characters for Twitter and a photo with a caption for Instagram. A video link with a pithy caption gets Facebook attention. Kim Kardashian is paid $200,000 for ONE tweet (socialmediabeast.com), while scientists researching cures for society’s ills have to bartend at night to pay their rent and health insurance because universities are cutting their stipends (this was one of the causes for the protests at University of Missouri last fall).
So what does this mean for our business? After all, we’re marketers and marketing is the embodiment of the superficial. Who are we to talk about “truth”?
Well, we tend to be on the forefront of change. The people working at agencies often are a bit more progressive. We have influence. We could use it for the better. The tide has already started to turn. Consumers are craving authenticity. The backlash to slickly marketed consumer goods has helped give rise to Etsy, artisanal cheesemongers and craft beers. We can help foster that movement and help define what “authenticity” means for brands.
We could start to provide more information. To provide a counterpoint to the slickness. To demand back-up for claims. And to create brand truths. Maybe we need to appeal to the left brain a little more. That’s not going to be easy for this right-brained business, but our futures could depend on it, as a society and as an industry.
Here at Origin Agency, we’re trying to live by this 3-Point Pledge:
1) We will step back and think about our clients’ brands and what substance they add to the category from the consumer’s perspective.
LaCroix Sparkling Water is a great example. It provides a great tasting, healthy alternative to soda. Even though it’s a big brand, it is adored by educated consumers because it gives them a choice at the exact time they want to ditch cola.
2) We won’t be afraid to provide information to the consumer. We will educate them and back up any claims that we’re making.
For KivaSun bison products, we take pains to educate consumers about the benefits of bison. We designed the website to be very heavy on information explaining the nutritional benefits of bison, for the consumer and for the environment.
3) We will take pains to ensure that we balance image with facts and education when creating brand programs.
Mumm Napa sparkling wine is a perfect illustration of this. Their combination of French Champagne roots and California creativity and winemaking innovation provided a perfect springboard for us to create a new brand positioning, winery tour and retail materials. All of the materials provide information from the winemaker about the choices that went into the blends and explain the back-up for quality claims.
We’re trying hard to be honest with consumers.
If we take this on as an industry, maybe we won’t have to explain to our grandkids why President Trump was elected to two terms.