What brands can learn from authoritarian leadership
From Trump to Putin, to a whole lot of leaders closer home who must not be named, the world we live in is increasingly being dominated by authoritarian leadership. It is undeniable that these leaders have unequivocally been able to influence a large bulk of the populace, and have been able to successfully sell their personal brand to the common man.
Do these autocrats possess their own secret formula that modern-day brands can follow?
Disrupt, stand out
White House insiders such as Omarosa Manigault claim that the reason Donald Trump does the things he does is because he hates being ignored. A lot like Saudi’s Royal Prince Mohammed bin Salman who repeals the Sharia law to finally let women drive, but also locks his cousins up in a five-star hotel. So, like these leaders, can brands amp up their disruption quotient by deliberately polarising their consumers? Brands like Marmite, Miracle Whip and Crocs have all attempted to do so. The newest chapter of Marmite’s polarity saga is The Gene Project, a fun exercise that uses ‘DNA testing’ to prove how the love or hatred for the brand exists at a fundamentally genetic level.
Now, consider how elections are invariably determined by voters sitting on the fence — and more often than not, authoritarian leaders can swing them their way. Their secret sauce? Be it good, bad or ugly, they always take a strong stand. As brands set sail for their conquests of expansion, they too often target the lowest hanging fruit — the non-loyalist. And by taking a strong stand on a strong issue, they too can effectively engage with new consumers. Dove’s Real Beauty, Tata Tea’s Jaago Re or Apple’s Think Different are examples of how brands have created hordes of new consumers by standing for something strong and creating purpose-led communication.
Relative deprivation is the feeling of being deprived of something to which one believes they are entitled to. Trump focussed on tapping into the anger relating to American jobs that are being lost to Mexico, China and India.
Brands have been able to successfully evoke this sense of relative deprivation by either tapping into a cultural truth, by manufacturing a deprivation, or by highlighting their superiority versus competitor brands. Be it nutrition brands that talk about dietary insufficiency, or probiotic drinks that successfully created a need for ‘good gut bacteria’, several brands have employed the tactic of deprivation to address existing consumer anxiety or to generate urgency.
Authoritarian governments are also known to isolate — in some extreme cases like North Korea and China, people are literally isolated from outside information. In Trump’s case, the isolation was due to the lack of communication between members of different groups. In fact, his white supporters have experienced far less contact with minorities than other Americans.
Even though brands cannot isolate consumers from competitors in the physical world, they can ensure constant unhindered consumer interaction in the digital universe. Social media algorithms follow the ‘more interaction = more visibility’ rule, and brands like Durex, Tinder, Amazon and Netflix have capitalised on this phenomenon. Their strong, constant and engaging presence allows them to almost virtually isolate the consumer from any other brand in their respective categories.
While some brands have followed a mix of these methods to make their mark, no brand has successfully managed to pull all of them off. Yet.
The author is brand planner, FCB Ulka