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Which Brands Will be the Winners in the Wake of the 2018 Midterm “Blue Wave?”

January 12, 2019  I   A. Bruce Crawley

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What will the 2018 midterm “Blue Wave” mean for brand messaging in the not-too-distant future? In that regard, it wasn’t that long ago that many consumer brands, in lemming-like fashion, convinced themselves that the path to marketing success was inextricably tied to their ability to align themselves with, and create messaging for, the newly discovered Middle American “Trump voter.”


Today, with the benefit of 20/20 political hindsight, it is clear that an increasingly important skill set for CMOs, in our world of 24/7 politically partísan communications, is an ability to avoid making reactionary marketing judgments, related to periodic national election results.


Most of us recall, all too well, the seemingly unending series of Monday Morning Quarterbacking admonishments from marketing and communications “experts,” in the months immediately following the 2016 Trump/Clinton election. Pollsters, cable news anchors, media buyers, campaign strategists, alike, were all taken to task for foolishly “ignoring” the newly important national voting bloc whose members resided between New York and California. 


Indeed, in a May 6, 2018 New York Times article, “Is This Ad Relevant to the Trump Voter? Advertisers Are Asking,” the reporter emphasized that a number of advertisers, in the wake of that election, were trying to better understand Americans who do not live in coastal cities. They were also anxious to determine “what the sharp political polarization in the country” meant for their brands and for the messaging they were being assigned to create.


In that same piece, HP, the personal computer and printer giant, said it was planning to “design ads with consumers’ political leanings in mind,” going forward.


Espousing a similar approach, Harris Diamond, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, added that, in keeping with his Chevrolet client’s “Trump voter” outreach, a new series of spots for the brand would “feature actual Chevy truck owners, several with Southern accents...with dents and scratches on their trucks.” Harris added, “We probably went too far with respect towards pushing a sort of cosmopolitan...elitist image.” 


Well, here we are, two years later, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Donald Trump’s “victory,” in 2016, may have had a great deal more to do with an electoral process that curiously ignored his opponent’s 3-million-vote winning margin in the popular election; massive polling place chicanery; apparent collusion with foreign agents; and deceptive social media posts, than with “Middle-American” campaign messaging.


It appears that brands such as Under Armour, TDBank, Home Depot, Yuengling Brewery, New Balance and the UFC were so anxious to join the apparently winning political team that they didn’t wait until the full details of the election results were known. In building their campaigns with incomplete data, they wound up making great assumptions about the importance of potential Middle American consumers. In the process, they violated their own core values and risked their relationships with broad, majority, national audiences, in the same way that Chevy Trucks and HP had done. 


Here’s the question: Now that the “Blue Wave” has resulted in the largest midterm voter turnout in more than 100 years, and a dramatic return of Democratic control of the U.S. Congress, should we expect to see major brands rush to include “progressive,” Democratic messaging in their social media posts, and in the spots and print ads they produce?




Our guess, however, is that the real, long-term winners will be those brands and agencies that remain true to their core values and their targeted consumers, no matter the direction or velocity of the constantly shifting political winds.


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A. Bruce Crawley is president, CEO and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc. (M3M). Read More...

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