Brand marketing lessons from Donald Trump and Brexit
A view from David Austin

Brand marketing lessons from Donald Trump and Brexit

Brands' obsession with millennials is blinkering their vision. Marketers can learn a thing or two from Donald Trump and Brexit.

In light of Wednesday’s monumental misjudgement of the mood in America and of course the UK’s equivalent miscalculation back in June, I thought it worth taking a moment to stop and reflect.

After a lot of f-ing and blinding, I was forced to accept a few hard truths. In Brexit and Trump, we have seen the masses choose "anti-establishment", a disregard for multiculturalism and an inward desire to revert back to the good ol’ days.

A sentiment being shared right across modern Europe. And, beyond popular belief, these voters weren’t all idiots – 54% of male college graduates voted for Trump, as did 45% of female college graduates. Nor were they poor and/or stubborn old people.

In the case of Trump’s victory, the Guardian reported it "relied on the support of the middle-class, the better-educated and the well-off." Yet, despite society and the masses pointing one way, as an industry we’re all too often looking elsewhere.

We’re fascinated with trend pieces focused on this marvellous millennial generation – progressive and liberal in its claimed views and actions.

The recent Stylus Autumn Innovation Forum, for example, spoke about the opportunities and trends that this millennial market present.

From building cultural bridges and co-creating solutions to tackling social and environmental issues with our brand communication strategies. The sort of stuff that, as London dwelling professionals, we’d love our brands to be contributing to.

However, just one look across the pond, where the majority of the country has just voted to do away with the EPA and build a great big fucking wall, you’re left questioning these trends.

Even in Blighty, the media and political elite underestimated the public mood. Will Straw, remain chief, stated that the British public voted to leave the EU "because they were very angry with what they felt had been done to them in their communities over decades".

This emotional anger at the political class and society as a whole far outweighed any rational, expert analysis. Likewise, in our industry, we tend to overlook the glum and gloomy. It doesn’t make for very cheery ads. But ignoring the realities of our modern society could be far more damaging to brands.

Millennials lag behind the over 50s in terms of spending power in the UK, yet as marketers, we’re being blinkered by their aspirations and agenda.

It is not enough to just follow trends of generational groups. Brands need to be reflective of and provocative towards the attitude of our audiences. It seems, then, that the big cultural trend of 2016 isn’t about VR or conscious consumerism, it’s that the everyday man/woman is feeling increasingly disenchanted and seeks simplicity.

Millennials lag behind the over 50s in terms of spending power in the UK, yet as marketers, we’re being blinkered by their aspirations and agenda.

Outside of our London and Facebook bubble, there is a changing mood. And, we as brand leaders should be asking ourselves, how would we talk to these people (the masses) in a way that genuinely connects and values them?

Just telling consumers that they have to be more progressive, future thinking and accepting of change clearly didn’t work for Cameron or Clinton. Why would the outcome be any different in marketing?

This isn’t to say we should disregard all emerging trends and ignore our corporate social responsibilities. We just need to acknowledge the bigger picture at play in modern society and create work that acknowledges, challenges and thrives off these tensions and conflicts.

The brands that put aside personal opinions and use this challenging landscape as an opportunity to harness rich insight and develop interesting creative propositions will be the winners of these turbulent times.

There’s an opportunity to create more culturally provocative campaigns that go beyond our metropolitan versions of Gen Y & Z.

Over the coming 12 months, we can expect to see a handful of bold brands take advantage of the political situation and target the 52% of disaffected voters as a group of their own – a new demographic.

We won’t appreciate the work, it won’t win any industry awards and the Guardian will hate it but you can be sure that it’ll be effective. As marketers we have to stay grounded, stay neutral and remember that we live and market in a world of conflicting opinion.

It’s time we appreciate and communicate to both sides of the debate and drop our obsession for liberal millennials. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every piece of rhetoric towards diversity there's an advocate for protectionism. For every first woman president candidate, there's a Donald Trump.

David Austin is a senior planner at Iris.