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How NOT to be trending in 2020

It was so nice to get away for the holidays. And by away, I mean away from media, and advertisements, and the unsolicited messages that bombard us daily.

Yet it turns out there are a large number of people – unlike me – that actually pay attention to these messages. And those people – that’s right, the ones you WANT to attract to your product with emotional or topical messaging for your product or service – have their own thoughts about what is acceptable. And what is not!

And increasingly, they are unafraid to exercise what one writer has termed “random consumer righteousness”.

You might remember the Peloton ad from last month that spawned tremendous outrage. It’s been called sexist (why is it always the woman who has to please her man with her appearance?) and elitist (don’t those rich people have more productive things to do with their money – and whose real life house actually looks picture-perfect on a daily basis?).

Well, it looks like people actually paid attention to that ad and Peloton suffered the consequences. Its response to the crisis seemed a touch tone-deaf (We are “disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial”), its stock price dropped, and people started giving Peloton undesirable on-line viral exposure with uncomplimentary memes and parodies (Like “What kind of a sociopath gets his wife a f***ing stationary bike?”). Ouch.

Now, one could argue that one of Peloton’s target markets is affluent women and their families, so why not send messages that address that market. In fact, it could be said that exercise and fitness itself, has unfairly become elitist, yet one more example of America’s great class divide. According to the CDC, 45.2% of poor women in America are obese compared to 29.7% of the country’s most affluent women.

The pertinent question, however, is not who is being targeted, but how they are being targeted. And brands are wise to answer that question with sensitivity.

It is hard work to increase top-line revenue. Advertisers get tempted by the promise of viral exposure by creating an emotional connection or hopping on, or creating, a trending or viral moment. How can we forget Pepsi’s ill-founded decision to put Kendall Jenner in a protest ad. Many consumers, however, thought it was an insult that trivialized racism. In fact, Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King tweeted a picture of her father being accosted by a white policeman saying, “If Daddy had only known about the power of #Pepsi.”

It is a different world in 2020. Consumer brands message at their own risk. Consumers, particularly millennials and the soon to emerge Gen Z, understand the power of their voice, and are unafraid to use it to address corporate behavior and messages that they deem insensitive.

Done the right way, topical messaging can gain extra coverage for businesses and products that they wouldn’t ordinarily achieve. News sources could pick it up. Influencers can latch on and create positive viral moments for their audiences.

Done the wrong way, and your brand could become the target of random consumer righteousness. And that would be a poor way to start out the new year, indeed.

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