Every advertising agency knows that authenticity has become an important tenet in brand management. Gone are the days of one-way communication between marketers and brands. Now, as any marketing agency can demonstrate, consumers also have a say.
Why is authenticity crucial in today’s marketing landscape? Because it’s not enough to relay information about products or services. Customers want to know what values the brand stands for. They want to know its principles and more importantly, whether the brand’s beliefs align with their beliefs.
Whether you’re an advertising firm or a digital marketing agency, you have to deal with diverse opinions. Sometimes, there’s risk in it as Bud Light recently found out. The brand’s partnership with TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney was criticized by some conservative audiences. This led to a significant drop in sales, which forced the brand to make leadership changes.
This has made many clients nervous about taking a stand in their marketing campaigns. At Socialistics, clients have asked us whether it’s better to avoid controversial topics in social media marketing. Our response has always been that one of the primary responsibilities of a brand is to align with the values of its target audiences.
Understanding Your Audience: The Key to Authentic Marketing
Most advertising or online marketing agencies know the importance of knowing their audience. But far too often, this is restricted to demographic details such as age, geographic location, income, and education.
To truly connect with their audiences, marketers need to understand them in greater detail. That’s when you will be able to make your marketing authentic.
This means understanding values that are important to your audiences. No matter how popular a trend is, every brand manager should ask if it’s important to their audience. If it isn’t, there’s no need to try to capitalize on it. It will be seen as fake and patronizing. Moreover, it will distance the audience from the brand.
The Bud Light controversy is an example of that misalignment. The marketing team failed to understand that the TikTok star and their beliefs are not aligned with their audience’s values. In fact, the core audience of the brand had made its views clear on the issue.
The brand should have known it. But that didn’t influence their decision-making because they weren’t talking to their specific audience. They were imposing an idea that their audiences had no interest in. In other words, the marketing was anything but authentic.
Bud Light Controversy: A Lesson in Marketing Missteps
The Bud Light controversy is a goldmine of marketing misadventures. This is a classic example of a firm presuming that the audience would like something only because it comes from one of their favorite brands.
There was no explicit or implicit demand from its consumers for incorporating such values in Bud Light’s campaigns. A significant portion of conservative audiences have always made their attitudes toward trans rights clear. But the brand overlooked that.
The campaign, not surprisingly, created serious dissonance. Loyal audiences of the brand were shocked to find someone they don’t approve of, whose values they don’t appreciate. For them, Bud Light had betrayed their trust. They boycotted the brand, which led to plummeting sales.
There’s another significant problem with the Bud Light controversy that most analysts haven’t taken into account. That’s the majority illusion. Based on who they routinely interact with, people tend to overestimate the popularity of certain beliefs. This happens particularly in online ecosystems.
The marketing team at Bud Light might have moved in online circles which believed Dylan Mulvaney was a bold and aspirational figure. So, they assumed that everyone else would also believe it. This turned out to be a humungous mistake.
The marketing team wasn’t listening enough to the values and beliefs of their target audience. They were reacting to the voices in their echo chamber.
This isn’t to say that what Bud Light did was right or wrong. This is to state that it was irrelevant and problematic to the one group that mattered the most; the brand’s target audience.
The Power of Taking a Stand: Authenticity and Trustworthiness
Does the Bud Light fiasco prove a brand shouldn’t take a stand? No, quite the opposite. A brand should take a stand that’s in alignment with the views and values of its target audience. The idea can be aspirational. But it should never be irrelevant or condescending.
Audiences have multiple platforms to express their views now. They have both offline and online venues to form communities and state their beliefs. They also expect the brands they buy to take a stand on issues that matter to them.
Not taking a stand or being silent is as good as disrespecting your consumers. Your audience might feel that what’s important to them is insignificant to you. That their values don’t matter to you and that the only thing you’re after is their money.
Once you understand what your consumers empathize with, it’s important to take a stand that aligns the brand with the audience. Share your values and be bold and transparent about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Show how you respect your audience and are willing to support them in their endeavors.
More than anything else, prove through your marketing that your audience matters to you.
Strategies for Navigating Controversial Topics
Taking a stand on an issue has to be a well-calibrated strategy. It needs to be done coherently and with conviction. If you’re ready to take a stand, here are some recommendations on how to do it right:
Be authentic: It should be a cause or a topic that your brand genuinely cares about. It shouldn’t be for temporary ‘likes.’
Align with your audience: Stay away from topics that are not in alignment with your audience’s beliefs. Remember, you’re standing with your consumers.
Be ready to risk it: Some may hate you for taking a stand. But if you’re authentic like the Nike campaign with Colin Kaepernick, you should be ready to handle the backlash.
Be consistent: Your audiences will see through any half-hearted measures. Your marketing team should be consistent in its messaging in support of your stand.
Give 360-degree support: Endorse your stand across all touchpoints. This gives opportunities for more customers to align with your views.
Engage with audiences: Your media management should be participatory. Engage with customers on social media platforms and celebrate their efforts.
Highlight influencers: Some of your customers may have gone out of their way to take a stand on the same issue. This is your chance to appreciate what they do.
Avoid polarization: You’re supporting an issue and not hating those who oppose it. Don’t have polarizing or extremist views in your campaign. Be bold but courteous.
Silence might be comforting. But taking a stand with authenticity will earn you the respect and trust of your customers. They will see you as one of their own, as someone who understands and values them.
That’s why marketers should take a stand wherever possible and embrace their values to foster trust and loyalty. That process should begin with listening to the audience and engaging in open and meaningful communication.