Can consumer health brands take inspiration from Trump?

Fear factors in public life

Scare tactics are deployed with regularity in politics, albeit to mixed success.

Donald Trump’s success in winning the Republican primary race and subsequent appeal in the run up to November’s Presidential election has been widely attributed to his ability to speak to white working class Americans.  Time and again, he has touched a nerve by talking to this demographic’s uncertainty and anxiety about what the future holds.

By contrast the UK referendum’s ‘Remain’ campaign focus was also based on fear: highlighting the range of possible disastrous implications of leaving the European Union.   But this approach failed to win the argument, with well-documented consequences.

The glass half-full brand

Commercial marketers have traditionally favoured a different approach: one that is characterised by overwhelming positivity. Brand leaders aim to spin positive stories; they transform fears, worries and anxieties into hopes and dreams.

Even in consumer health care, where functional products offer solutions to specific (and often transient) problems or prevent poor long term health outcomes, brands embrace an upbeat approach. Here, marketers are determined to express how their brand of foot deodorant, incontinence pads, or anti-diarrhoeal helps consumers realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

And, for good reason. Marketers recognise the power of positivity to capture hearts and minds. They understand that offering a carrot rather than a stick coaxes and seduces consumers to their brand – ultimately making it more attractive. In neuro linguistic terms the marketing paradigm is ‘towards’ rather than ‘avoid’.

What’s more, the risks attached to adopting a negative approach are high. The same danger of alienation and rejection that the Remain campaign experienced, are real for brands too.  So is there any place for scare tactics in consumer marketing?

The lure of the dark side

Whilst marketers tend to steer clear, leveraging negative emotions like fear, anxiety, uncertainty and disgust can be a savvy choice.

Corsodyl, GSK’s medicated mouthwash, has experienced ongoing and significant success by growing the gum care category.  Their focus has been on raising awareness of gum disease, and their most recent campaign vividly depicts the negative – tooth loss.

The building blocks of this approach suggest it has great potential. The shocking imagery and evocation of negative emotions can cut through otherwise chirpy advertising; it draws upon the common and widely talked about nightmare of losing your teeth; and it establishes itself as a credible solution for gum disease.

What next for your brand?

What can we learn from Corsodyl’s long term strategy, the Trump phenomenon and the shortcomings of Remain?

1 / These tactics are not appropriate for every brand. Brands that choose this approach need to be bold and committed – they must create a paradigm, and stick to it with single-minded focus.

2 / The communications approach should reflect the mind-set of target consumers. Conjuring negative emotions can provide a much needed shock to the system that overcomes the inertia of default behaviours, but it can also become noise that creates resentment.

3 / Brands should show empathy and resonate with consumers’ experiences. There’s an opportunity to seem more grounded and realistic than competitors who understate the real consumer need. It’s critical to be seen as a friend who is trying to help, rather than a foe who is there to aggravate and upset.

4 / The problem should be distinct from the solution. It’s important that negative emotions should not transfer to the brand. Rather, consumers should be left feeling positive about the availability of a solution.

Hard-hitting campaigns are all too rare in the consumer health arena, and we perceive that more brands should explore this route. We would love to hear your perspective, and thoughts about where and when it can be useful.