The Cults of Personalities

1 Nov

Three Takeaways from the 2016 Elections

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Guest contributor:
Matt Hillman, Creative Director

This blog was written in the final weeks leading up the 2016 presidential election, and regardless of where you stand in the political spectrum or what the results might have been, we can all agree: this was a rough one.

Sure, the issues are important and the stakes are high, but this race was particularly intense because the finalists in the election race were not just people—they were brands.

Brands aren’t reserved for names or logos; brands are what we feel in our gut when we are regularly exposed to a company, product, service or even people. And the people in this election were definitely larger than life.

With so much riding on their shoulders, the candidates came to represent more than just their platforms—people across the country associated the candidates with ways of life, with values, and in some cases the candidates became lightning rods for everything controversial.

So what can we learn from the campaign from a brand perspective?

  1. Brands Are About Belonging

As stated in a PBS Frontline episode, “people join and stay with cults for the exact same reasons as people join and stay with brands…the desire to belong to something.” Well beyond political platforms or ideologies, each candidate’s supporters projected what they wanted each candidate to represent onto them, viewing the candidate as the key to gaining what they desired most. We see this in brands all the time, with beverages suggesting they deliver a way of life or level of happiness that other drinks cannot.

  1. Brands Are Divisive

To those who align themselves with a brand, that brand is a symbol of something (or many things) the person values, respects, and supports. But conversely, that same brand can come to represent the opposite to others who don’t support it—something insolent, subversive, and even dangerous. While many enjoy Starbucks and feel good about the company’s policies, others see it as a money-hungry organization that dupes customers. Similarly, we saw this often with some fans not simply supporting their candidate, but growing to hate the opposing nominee—and the people associated with them.

  1. Brands Confound Logic

If someone is, say, a fan of Ford trucks, it makes absolutely no difference what the data says about power, capacity, style, etc. If this person is “a Ford guy,” none of that matters. Reason and logic take a backseat to association and alignment; in fact, if you push the issue too far, they become irritated and irrational. In other words, brand is all about emotion. Again, we saw this repeatedly in this election, with normally stable, rational people screaming and chanting, refusing to engage in civil discourse, or unwilling to entertain an opposing view.

So regardless of your vote, it’s important to remember that behind the people, parties, and platforms lurked brands—and a valuable reminder that just like Ford vs. Chevy, Coke vs. Pepsi, or Apple vs. Samsung, election brands can be an ugly affair.

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