OdinText recently published a fascinating text analytics study of culture and emotions around the world. As both a Brit and a US resident, I was interested to see what the study made of the prevailing emotions in my two domiciles – post-Brexit vote and post-Trump vote. The results did not make for pretty reading. In the US the prevailing emotion was one of anger, while in the UK it was of fear and anxiety. This set me to thinking. First of all, how could research help in understanding these emotions and, secondly, how on earth do brands communicate in such an environment?
One of the most interesting things in the US survey was that the anger was bifocal: on the one hand, there was the anger that had propelled Trump into power; and, on the other, was the anger of those who totally oppose Trump and all he stands for. For now, at least, it seems that never shall these two opposing sides see things in the same light. Similar emotions are on display in the UK, with Brexit Remain voters furious with the Leave bloc and with the government, but at the same time deeply anxious about the future of their country. In both countries, the divide also appears to be severely generational, with US millennials and new voters anti-Trump and their UK counterparts passionately Remain. In both countries, the young feel betrayed by their older and supposedly wiser forbears.
Does research play a role here in enabling bloc to talk to bloc – and should it? Is there a way in which research can be used to illuminate the fears and feelings of one set of people to the other? In short, can it help heal the divide? I don’t pretend to know the answer, although I do know that I fervently hope that it can.
But imagine for a moment that you are a brand trying to communicate in this environment. Do you, and can you, deploy campaigns that appeal to common values? Surely, the answer must be yes. For, when you dig beneath the surface, we are after all “all fruit”, as the father of the bride so famously said in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Politics aside, we share interests and passions and can quite easily relate to each other’s wants, desires and anxieties. For example, a researcher and consultant that I deeply respect turned out to be a Trump voter (I’m not). But, when he is on stage performing in a rock band (his hobby), all that is forgotten as you get lost in the music and the moment.
And that’s what brands have to do – find the music and the moments in which all are united, feel secure and can have fun. Get to the fundamentals of common emotion and leverage them for good.
However, in trying to do this, brands need to speak with both sensitivity and authenticity. Pepsi showed us exactly how not to do it (they breached the authenticity test), while Heineken a few weeks later demonstrated brilliantly how to pull it off.