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Truth About America: Politically Divided U.S. Is Also Challenging Brands, McCann Finds in New Study

People Buy From People They Trust. Businessman holding a card with a message text written on itPervasive Polarization Is Creating a New Challenge for Brand Communicators

The bitter divisiveness and partisan disputes about truthfulness that have come to characterize today’s political environment are also affecting other aspects of American life, including attitudes about brands and core values, according to new research about the expanding divisions in the U.S. from McCann Truth Central. And there is hardly any form of cultural expression—whether songs, TV shows or ad campaigns—that isn’t being closely parsed for political meaning.

The Truth About America study found, as expected, that there is broad distrust of politicians. About 70 percent of Americans say that politicians today are less truthful today compared to those 20 years ago—but more surprising is that 42 percent of Americans also say that brands and companies are less truthful today than they were 20 years ago.

“America’s increasingly pervasive polarization is creating a new kind of challenge for brand marketers. They have to decide how much to align with values favored or opposed by one constituency or another,” said Steve Zaroff, chief strategy officer of McCann North America, in a news release. “But what we found in our Truth Central study is that there are also areas of common ground with regard to positively viewed values and institutions.”

The study, unveiled at the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) recent Transformation conference in Los Angeles, is the second released jointly by the McCann Worldgroup intelligence unit and the 4A’s as an exploration of American trends influencing advertising, the last being “The Truth About Advertising” in 2013.

“To be effective, advertising needs to be in tune culturally with the mood and trends of the country. This research shows how critical it is for advertisers to get out and speak to consumers; data is not enough on its own,” said Nancy Hill, president and CEO of the 4A’s, in the release. “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.”

The sharp divide between conservatives and liberals runs across all categories in which they were asked about nationhood and cultural identity with regard to values, institutions, brands, foreign countries, American symbols, or news sources. But the study identified the American “glue” as well as the “gaps.”

  • For example, when asked about the “most trusted U.S. institution,” NASA emerged as the common-ground answer, while conservatives favored the U.S. Army and liberals the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • If a brand was going to be in charge of the U.S., which would get the vote? Amazon was the common-ground answer, while conservatives otherwise favored Walmart, and liberals answered Google.
  • What’s most American? Baseball as well as burgers, fries and soda was the shared answer, while conservatives named bald eagles and liberals jazz and blues music.
  • Which country besides America has the best political system? Canada is the glue, while conservatives named the U.K. and liberals Sweden.

McCann Truth Central, a global intelligence unit, is dedicated to unearthing the macro-level truths that drive people’s attitudes and behaviors about life, brands and marketing. The “Truth About America” study was based on an online quantitative survey of 1,000 nationally representative adult Americans aged 18 and over.

Source: PR Newswire; edited by Richard Carufel

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