Stop With Political Correctness
By Tom Dougherty
Political correctness is the enemy of great brands. It is, in fact, the enemy of great marketing. The finest brands and the best marketing are those that seem most transparent to the customer. When consumers see an advertisement, they should see the brand and not be aware of the message. When they see the brand, they should see themselves and not all of the product attributes.
Clarity Is Your Ally
Clarity and single-mindedness are the allies of great brand building. These disciplines of focus should find their way into all of your brand and corporate communications. Anything that detracts from that focus needs to be eliminated and trimmed — it’s waste. Think of your brand and it’s subsequent messaging as if it was a telegram and you were paying dearly for every word and every idea. Any wasted energy is a destructive force and needs to be quieted.
Any message that is not within the charter of your brand diminishes its effectiveness by drawing attention to the medium and away from the message itself. Recently, at a cinema, one of our strategists witnessed an ad for a hearing loss center. In the ad, the hearing loss center was telling those in the beginnings of hearing loss that the center was in a position to help them. In the lower right hand corner of the commercial was a pullout window where an eager young gal used sign language to repeat the voiceover.
This is a prime example of political correctness infecting a brand message. Anyone who is schooled in understanding sign language does not need a hearing center — they have obviously already sought treatment. It was an attempt on the part of the brand to pander to special interest groups and curry favors that had nothing to do with the future success of the services they provided. It seemed out of place in the message and diluted the effectiveness of the advertisement.
The brand did not address the idea that those losing their hearing do not – or do not want – to think of themselves as deaf. The underlying issues involved in the stigma of hearing loss — the very issues that hinder acceptance of treatment – were ignored. There was no attempt in the brand message to reassure the viewers with hearing loss that they were not in anyway marginalized and that the loss of hearing was not an embarrassment. In a category that sells services, they did not address the root cause of acceptance in the way that eyeglasses are no longer stigmatizing.
Put A Stake In The Ground
It is often difficult to protect a brand from the cancer of political correctness. When ad agencies produce print ads and commercials that look like advertisements for the United Nations, we weaken our ability to influence the target audience we covet.
Putting a stake in the ground means having clarity and purpose. Branding has no place for moral dogma — it must be about simple effectiveness. The more internal constituencies a brand has, the more apt it is to dilute its message with multiple agendas.
Nowhere is this more readily apparent then in destinations and tourism. Rather than speak the brand essence with clarity and conviction, such jumbled brands attempt to be everything to everyone and, in the end, become nothing to no one.
The Only Solution
The antidote to this quagmire is always the voice of the customer. Market research, the kind of quantitative research that lays bare the preceptive fabric of the customer, is nearly impossible to ignore. The resulting brand is dynamic and effective when the beliefs of the customer are brought into the brand and marketing equation and when brand managers are empowered.
It is well to remember that the only reason to invest in a share-stealing brand is to win. Self-aggrandizement and political correctness are only for brands that don’t care about winning or are the result of a political agenda. The rules for a brand to steal market share are quite simple:
The Four Rules To Remember
- Know your customer. Not only the habits and attitudes but also the beliefs and values. You must know what your target audiences believe to be true about their lives and the rules that they follow.
- Speak with clarity. Communications without purpose is at its best unproductive and at its worse destructive. Eliminate superfluous messaging and salute no political agenda. The goal is to change a behavior, not punish one.
- Identify you customers. Allow them to see themselves in your brand. This is easier to see in consumer brands. But, if your business is B2B, imagine the company as an individual personality and address the self-description. Companies have the same tendencies as individuals and the brand that best understands them is in a position to win.
- Be willing to win. This may seem foolish to say, but quite often, we come across brands that are not. They are more attached to their own preconceived notions than their desire to success. They come to us, engage our services and hope that our recommendations will be to keep on doing what they have been doing. You cannot win by continuing the status quo. Remember, as the great wizard of ads once said, “the price of clarity is the risk of offense.”