Whether SNL knows it or not—they have just nailed the kinds of meetings marketing executives on both the brand and agency side will be having for the months if not years to come. While one team pitches “Cheeto executives” the same idea over and over again involving political hot topics—the other team in futility keeps trying to bring the brand back to more basic truths. People eat Cheetos because it’s fun and they taste good.
The spoof was in reaction to the 2017 Superbowl, where several brands in reflection of a polarized climate took a definitive stance on where they stood. Knowingly or not, SNL hits a very real chord that marketers must carefully evaluate. Brands don’t like being irrelevant or out of touch with culture, and when a culture is divided and polarized—it puts pressure on the brand to become or stay relevant. But in that rush to relevancy, brands are going to have to answer some key questions or risk out of touch with what they actually are.
Key Questions Brands Will Need Answered Before Taking a Definitive Stance
Do we have a right to weigh in on a specific societal issue? When marketers wax poetic over the effectiveness of value-driven campaigns such as #Likeagirl, they often overlook that the brand in such case (Always) has a built in right to cultivate a conversation around woman empowerment. Without a genuine right to join or lead a conversation—a brand stance will fall flat.
Have we uncovered and articulated our core values? Brands have personalities like people—and they can often hold values. Not all brands have done the work needed to define what that guiding “north star” is and without this—they risk sailing into consumer activist waters without a compass.
Do our core values align with our value proposition to the consumer/customer? Does the average Nordstrom consumer have the same values as a Budweiser consumer? Brands must go beyond traditional demographic data and see their consumers in more nuanced ways.
Is our brand’s business operations a good representative of the values we are championing? Audi’s Superbowl ad looked different from the faces and gender of their executive ranks. Brands that haven’t aligned marketing with business operations must way the risk and rewards of taking a stance especially if there is a gap between communications and operations.
Does the societal issue fit into our higher purpose at the company/corporate level? Does your brand operate under a broader “corporate” brand structure or are they the same? Either way when engaging with consumer’s and taking a stance—a brand’s values should align with the corporation.
Who will we possibly alienate—who doesn’t share the same values we do? Taking a stance doesn’t guarantee that everyone will agree with you even if the company and CMO think it’s the right thing to do. Brands will need to be prepared to handle scenarios where even the most positive messaging may be as interpreted as offensive or disingenuous.
SNL’s Cheeto skit may have been fictitious but it’s closer than they likely know in terms of how brands will wrestle with when they should stand for something or not or if so, how. And in polarizing times—the stakes have never been so high.