You can’t please everyone, so why should your brand?

Brands risk alienating audiences by failing to understand their cultural environment.

To highlight the ‘key role’ of cultural and social trends in shaping advertising is not news. It’s clear that this is how it is – time and time again the reactions of the public push content down different avenues. This is now even more relevant. Brands succeed when they break through in culture. Once audiences became able to opt-out of ads, buying into it has become harder, and advertisers are fearful of missing out.  

Adverts used to connect. But they are now becoming too obvious. Too politically correct, even.  So much so, they sometimes no longer reflect society, or at least the parts its creators want to reach.  In many ways, with some companies wielding such major market power – consumers almost expect them to take political positions.  It’s not a bad move – it’s a bold one.  

Too often, brands fear falling into a turmoil of public slating.  Take KFC’s 2017 ‘dancing chickens’ advert – which deeply offended the likes of vegetarians.  Or Dove’s constant ‘inability’ to satisfy all women (mostly because it is virtually impossible to cater for all).  Or more recently, Burger King was slated for telling its Twitter followers they were “still selling milkshakes” after Nigel Farage’s incident in Scotland.   

Are we are experiencing a wave of advertising cast under a generic liberal, elite lens? Advertisers are under the assumption that certain ideas should be avoided because audiences won’t like it; even when these ideas represent and reflect.  But the truth is, all content can offend people.  Disregarding it as creative, clever, or ‘hitting the nail’ is inherently wrong (especially considering most of the slated content is not indecent or disrespectful – it simply expresses a bit of controversy).  We forget that this is often the ultimate goal.   

This is where the importance of research comes in.  To find out whether audiences are going to accept or reject a concept, you need to ask them.  Test concepts with people that represent the audience you’re trying to reach and engage.  You can then create culturally influenced content that still shares the values of your target audience.  Good research does not kill creativity.  It encourages it.  It helps us move away from the ‘crowd’ and explore new ways by which culture can shape advertising.  It’s not a “new” approach – we simply have renewed and more accurate methods to do so.  

Let’s get back to the Burger King incident.  They took a political stand. They listened to the wishes of the masses and used their reach to support (or in this case reject) politics.  They didn’t participate in ‘anti-social’ behaviour.  In fact, they jumped on the trend I’m questioning and were still ripped to shreds. Instead, why not acknowledge that their social media presence integrates so well with the younger generation that they make the headlines and build the brand reputation they (clearly) want to build?  

So, my advice to brands is this – do what is right for you and your audience and test, test, test.  If you create ads that represent your audience, success will follow.  It’s not about pleasing everyone, mostly because you can’t. And partly because people will quickly realise.  Put your faith in the consumer and let the people decide.