marketing audience

Is there an argument for offending an audience to win the one you want?

Without reaching the right audience, the success of any marketing program is weak or fleeting. Given this, we marketers view our audiences as sacred, and do everything we can to avoid making them angry. But should we hold them so dearly? Perhaps we marketers need to take more risks and alienate some to earn the allegiances of new and more targeted audiences?

Let me share a few examples that prompted my questions:

  • A recent NY Times article titled, “Pizza is Partisan,” shined a light on how many brands are finding themselves in hot water due to political factions among their customer bases.
  • An angry group of consumers recently gave Keurig social media headaches by destroying Keurig coffee machines in videos posted online. They were doing it because the company said it was pulling ads from Sean Hannity’s Fox News show after he voiced support for Roy Moore.
  • Papa John’s had to walk back its CEO’s earnings-call comments after he waded into the NFL player protest movement.
  • Bill O’Reilly has lost multiple advertisers after it was announced that he paid hush money to quiet multiple women’s harassment accusations.
  • And after Mila Kunis shared that she was donating to Planned Parenthood on behalf of Vice Present Mike Pence, some customers started #BoycottJimBeam.

These examples point to a new marketing reality. Customers are taking sides and amplifying their voices via social networks. And in most cases, companies are being very careful to be as neutral as possible. They do this because their rubrics tell them that business can be won or lost with the tap of a keyboard.

But what if these companies have it wrong? What if they actually took a side and tightened the bond between themselves and their core audiences, and maybe even gained some market share in the process? I’m not advocating this approach for every brand, but it does make for interesting ruminations for some.

Volvo provides a good example of what might be a craftier path forward. After they took flack for announcing on Twitter that they were pulling ads from Sean Hannity’s show, they pulled their tweets as well. But what if they didn’t? What if they buckled down and said, “You’re damn right, we’ll walk away from any person or organization that doesn’t view women with the same high esteem we do.” How might that play out with Volvo’s customer base that is largely well educated and empowered women?

Volvo’s brand is built around safety, a virtue that parents, and specifically, mothers, care deeply about. One could argue that Volvo could gain significant tribal momentum, or audience glue, by planting its flag with the people they spend millions of dollars marketing to. It is, after all, their core group. Maybe, just maybe, they should embrace them.

To be clear, only you can decide what message is right for your brand and your audience. And sure, the safe route works. But, as more and more audiences express laser-focused voices, maybe it’s time for more brands to do the same. If something doesn’t feel in line with for the brand, and you feel your audience would agree, it might be time to consider taking the risk of offending some and capturing those you really want as customers.