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Left and right like Canada, Mexican food (and not much else) (Includes first-hand account)

Companies invest millions of dollars into promoting their brands every year. But 42 percent of the American population feels that marketers of the brands are less truthful today than they were two decades ago. That’s one result of a recent survey conducted by the Truth Central unit of McCann Worldgroup, the global advertising network. Representatives of McCann recently presented their findings at a panel discussion sponsored by the website Buzzfeed as part of the annual Northside festival in Brooklyn.

But in another finding, 84 percent of the survey’s respondents said that they “believe brands have the power to make the world better place.”

So how does a brand that a diminishing number of consumers trust get to be one that can positively transform the world? That means companies confront a glass-half-full/half-empty dilemma. Making things more complicated, they have to win back and retain consumers’ trust at a time of deepening political divisions. Ignoring politics, though, isn’t an option. Only 19 percent of respondents believe that brands should stay away from politics.
“Nowadays we’re consuming political news the way we used to scour celebrity news or sports or cute kitten videos,” said one McCann representative. “Talk show hosts are becoming more partisan. The mark of physical fitness becomes Michelle Obama’s arms or friendship Obama and Biden’s bromance… We look at America through a political lens.”
On average, almost 70 percent of people surveyed say that they’ve read, watched or heard the news in the past hour, though presumably not at three in the morning.

But is there anything that American Conservatives and Liberals can agree on in an era of political polarization? The findings of McCann’s survey indicate that the two sides do have more in common than they might suspect. For instance, asked which government institutions they respected the most, Conservatives cited the Department of Defense, Liberals the Environmental Protection Agency and – surprisingly – the IRS. But both groups said they have high regard for NASA, suggesting that space exploration enjoys bipartisan support. Asked to characterize the types of leaders they look up to, Conservatives are more likely to say religious or business leaders while Liberals point to civil rights leaders. But they’re both partial to inventors and scientists. Asked which brand they’d vote for if brands could run for office, Conservatives chose Walmart’s while Liberals would pull the lever for Google and Microsoft, but the appeal of Amazon and Apple transcended political differences. Conservatives viewed the U.K. and Australia favorably, Liberals – no surprise here – opted for Sweden. But both groups held Canada in high regard. Conservatives are pro-life, Liberals support immigration and LGBTQ rights, but they’re willing to put aside their differences to share a bottle of French wine and enjoy a meal of Mexican food. (Why both Conservatives and Liberals would prefer burritos to sushi or egg rolls is a question that isn’t answered by the survey.) Whether Mexican food or respect for NASA or Apple can provide enough ‘glue’ to bring Americans together in more profound ways remains to be seen.

The McCann survey also looked at the attitudes of respondents. They found a big gap between how people feel about the world and how they feel about their communities and themselves. Only 22 percent of respondents, for instance, think that the mood of the nation is good. On the other hand, 46 percent expressed more optimism about their community’s mood and they seem positively sanguine when asked about their own mood – 59 percent said they were basically satisfied with their lives. “People have the sense that the outside world is so unpredictable and scary,” says a McCann researcher, so they’re inclined “to retreat into their own communities and families” in the belief that “what we know about our daily lives will keep us safe.”

The survey results have important implications for companies hoping to inspire trust in their brands and products. Steve Zaroff, Chief Strategy Officer of McCann North America, offers a three-point formula to gain back consumer trust: “Choose culture, not politics; positivity still wins; and be prepared for unexpected feedback in a world where marketing can often take on unintended political overtones.”

Unless companies can “relate to a social cause that’s integral to your brand identity.” they should avoid politics altogether

It’s still a challenge to put these ideas into practice. When Microsoft, for example, recently posted a video showing ethnic women working as scientists, the company received supportive comments but also attracted a lot of trolls, according to Microsoft’s Kathleen Hall. While she expresses no regrets about releasing the video, she says that Microsoft prefers to celebrate social values rather than focus on politics.

“To be effective, advertising needs to be in tune culturally with the mood and trends of the country,” says Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4A’s, the American Association of Advertising Agencies. “While there is a divide—which we are all aware of—there are also shared viewpoints that can be uncovered and leveraged to reach target audiences.”

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