This review first ran in the Oct. 14 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
By Clive Veroni
House of Anansi Press
General Mills airs a Cheerios commercial starring an interracial family. The ad is watched more than five million times on YouTube. While likes trump dislikes by a margin of more than 25 to one, online commenting is disabled because of racist rants. General Mills doesn’t back down and put out another ad with the same modern family.
Honey Maid, maker of graham crackers, runs a commercial showing two dads raising a baby. The group One Million Moms threatens a boycott and accuses Honey Maid of normalizing sin. Honey Maid commissions artists to turn the hate mail into an art installation that spells the word love.
Welcome to the new world of marketing, where companies court the passionate few like politicians aiming to win elections.
Companies realize there are loyal customers to be had by making some people mad.
“Smart marketers will understand that using the anger of some will allow them to win the support of others,” says Clive Veroni, a marketing strategist and author of Spin. “The angrier your opponents get, the more ginned up your supporters become.”
And your ginned up tribe of loyal followers can have an outsized influence on the undecided majority in the middle.
“Politicians have always understood that mass marketing and niche appeals do not constitute an either / or proposition. You need both to survive.” Veroni says the trick is to antagonize just enough people without having everyone turn on you with pitchforks and flaming torches.
Companies that play it safe, steer clear of hot button issues and stick to the middle of the road will eventually get run over, warns Veroni.
“Much as companies might want to avoid stepping into these debates, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid them. For marketers, like politicians on the campaign trail, not taking a stand is taking a stand. And the relentless pressures of social media will force your hand one way or the other.
“Too often, marketers strive to please the broadest number of people possible. The result can be communications that no one hates – but that no one loves either.”
Like politicians and political parties, companies are mining big data and sorting through our digital breadcrumbs to turn information into actionable insights about why we buy. Target can now predict when you’re expecting a baby. The company used to mail special offers to moms-to-be until parents began asking why their teenage daughters were getting coupons for diapers and baby food.
Politics was once local. Today, it’s individualized and companies are moving fast in the same direction.
“In the post-mass marketing world, the emphasis will be less and less on reaching large numbers of people with the same message and more on reaching specific people with highly individualized messages,” says Veroni.
And as politicians and war room operatives well know, it’s not what you say but how you say it and how fast you get off the mark that counts. “Marketers are finding that the two levers they’ve traditionally had full control over – time and message content – are no longer theirs to manipulate as they wish. How well they respond to the need for speedier response times, and for more participatory message creation, will be critical to their future success.”
Whether you’re looking to win votes or customers in our digital age, Spin is well worth a read. And as consumers and citizens, it’s good to know how political strategists and marketers work their magic.