An Agency Founder’s Take on What Marketers Can Learn From Election 2016

StrawberryFrog's Scott Goodson on cultural movements


Specs
Current gig Founder and CEO, StrawberryFrog
Previous gig Ecd, JWT Canada
Twitter @ScottFrog
Age 53

Adweek: StrawberryFrog made its first broadcast Super Bowl spot for SunTrust last year. What was your big take-away? 
Scott Goodson: The key point for me was that it's [both] a platform and an event. We live in an age of perpetual distraction, so whatever you come up with has to be bigger than a commercial.

Do you think election fatigue will carry over into the ads we see during Super Bowl LI?
Absolutely. Lots of Americans were frustrated by the election. … They want brands to make them feel good about themselves, empowered and confident.

What is a "cultural movement," and how does Trump's surprise victory relate?
A movement is like a marketing idea with a thousand legs. You don't have to advertise hundreds of times; you just have to say something meaningful on Sunday when people are watching TV. Trump taught us that a waning media business called Twitter that was struggling to make money is the most effective platform in the world, to him. If you're able to capture an audience's imagination, then social media is a great place because people will talk about it.

What, if anything, can agencies and clients really take from Trump's performance?
Advertising is at its best when it expresses the "inner feelings" of the brand. That's exactly what Trump did. He had a simple call to action in Make America Great Again, defined the change he wanted to make, and understood the people he was talking to and what was important to them. He realized that people want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

How can we translate that idea into a marketing strategy?
Most of the time, both politicians and brands are super complacent and kind of boring; they don't say much and they don't startle you. Trump, on the other hand, was controversial every single day. He was able to tap into human fears to create a monster or monsters. He created his own language and had [memorable] names for all his enemies that he kept building through repetition. He was literally always on … unlike an ad that runs once and either you see it or you don't. All cynicism aside, it was super effective.

But how can brands achieve similar traction without dividing the public like Trump did?
I would never recommend pitting people against each other, but the act of creating a monster is an effective way to rally people around you, and that doesn't have to involve demonizing individuals. The monster could be a brand that isn't truthful or a competitor whose product isn't healthy; for example, Chipotle turned other fast-food chains into monsters. Every brand can have a movement, but not every brand deserves one.

Some reports claim that his victory has led marketers to reconsider whether they are out of touch and move to avoid crossing Trump's "base." What's your take?
One thing I stress is the need to be empathetic with people. We've been fixated for too long on millennials while missing the fact that there are many different groups of people in this country. Americans in general focus on youth and certain subcultures at the expense of others. Boomers have tons of money; they're a huge consumer class. The election shows that a lot of people are passionate in "Middle America," and you have to be open-minded. The media has been quick to put cooler, more New York- and San Francisco-centric campaigns on a pedestal.

But should brands risk defining themselves as anti-Trump?
Movements can't be created by brands; brands are aligned with movements. If there's a brand that wants to align with the people who didn't vote for Trump, then it could work. Those people do make up a majority of the country.

This story first appeared in the December 12, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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