CRAIG BERRY, CREATIVE DIRECTOR
November is a month typically known for many things: cool fall weather, beautiful autumn colors, gathering with friends and family, giving thanks, sharing a meal and last but not least, vile, slanderous, vitriolic rhetoric plastered all over the airwaves. What a wonderful time indeed.
“The time for thanks is also the time that ushers in a child-like war of insults, dirty secrets and blatant mistrust.”
Isn’t it odd, don’t you think, that the time of the year that ushers in the giving season and the time for thanks and hope is also the time of year that ushers in a child-like war of insults, dirty secrets and blatant mistrust? What this phenomena exposes is a couple of interesting pieces of American psychology, both of which center around trust, and both of which are crucial for marketers to understand.
First, how did we get to the point of electing officials in November? Well, it wasn’t until 1845 that we really had a set date to hold elections, and that date was set as the second Tuesday in November. This was for several reasons, most notably a Tuesday wouldn’t interfere with any religious days of worship or service, and it would also avoid conflict with market days, which were typically Wednesdays in our once-primarily agrarian society. But why November? Before 1845, federal law permitted that each state have a period of 34 days to hold elections. This time period ended on the first Wednesday of December, which was a day scheduled for the meeting of the electors for the president and vice president of the United States. This, of course, was because of the calendar year in the U.S., and the need for newly-elected officials to take office in January. So as things became more structured, November became the election month to allow for any necessary accommodations to be made before January 20, the inauguration date for new presidents.
This exposes our first bit of American psychology: our trust in the past. We are a nation that, even subconsciously, is deeply rooted in traditions from several generations ago. These subconscious predispositions fuel the way we interact with each other and the way we conduct ourselves as a nation. Without fully understanding the origins of certain holidays or traditions, we will still celebrate them or follow them without question or deviation.While many cultures make it a large part of the function of their society to understand fully any holiday or social guideline, the same cannot be said for the U.S. We have been taught in large part, to simply trust that things are the way they are supposed to be. This is the crucial link to the seemingly unrelated topic of political attack ads.
Attack ads from politicians seeking to gain or retain a position expose the other half of the psychological trait at play here: our faith in trust. Trust is the second most abundant form of currency in the United States, and even though it may never physically trade hands, it is a vital element of our society. In many cases trust either exists in spades, or doesn’t exist at all. It’s hard to sort-of trust somebody, or trust a person with one thing, but not another. It’s this go/no-go system of trust that makes the political attack ad such a valuable and effective piece of political marketing. Politics used to be about expressing your views and your goals and hoping that others would align with them – and in turn – vote for you. It wasn’t until recently though that political marketers discovered that it’s much harder to build trust than it is to build doubt. Much in the same way that it’s harder to prove innocence than it is to assume guilt, these attack ads strike at that ever present core element of our belief system – trust. The truth of the matter is that very few people believe in the promises made by politicians. This makes it very difficult to build a campaign strictly around promises. Think of trust as if it were money. It’s much easier to spend the money you have than it is to earn it in the first place. The same is very true of trust, especially in America. It’s much easier to lose the trust of someone than it is to gain their trust, in most instances. This is the thought at the core of the political advertising schemes we see today.
So what can non-political marketers take away from all of this? First, nothing is more important than earning the trust of your target consumer before you try and earn their money. Second, the best way to earn that trust is through action and engagement rather than purely messaging tactics. And third, maybe it’s best to leave the TV off when it’s Thanksgiving family time.