This weekend, I saw “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” a film, which, like its characters, is not what it appears. A Rashomon-like tale of families, nations and values—betrayed and upheld—it’s a story where words (like fundamentalist) have multiple meanings and actions can only be truly appreciated “from the beginning” and in their proper context.
If only the creative “minds” behind recent campaigns for Reebok, Mountain Dew and Ford (or, lamentably, the recent Oscars telecast) had paid as much attention to “fundamentals” as the hero in the Mira Nair movie. In their effort to be “hip” and “relevant” to their millennial target and to achieve “virality,” they overlooked a very basic truth. It’s not virality you should be chasing. It’s positive awareness, trial and brand loyalty.
Not to pile on, but did anyone with authority or credible professional experience (um, adults) consider that rape (Mountain Dew) is not funny? That violence (Pepsi) and misogyny of the most savage kind (Reebok) are not recruiting? That suicide-obstruction (Hyundai UK) is not a product attribute?
According to the various post-mortems on these and similar campaigns, marketers and their agencies are struggling to reach out and engage the newest target du jour. “What do millennials want?” is apparently the question on everybody’s lips. As the mother of a millennial I can tell you what they want—a job with a living wage and some relationship to their major after graduation, a way to pay off tuition debt before they reach social security age and the belief that there is a future to which they can make a positive contribution. Lil Wayne and edginess for its own sake do not factor into the equation.
Blaming social media (the tyranny of likes) or resorting to cheap borrowed interest (celebrities) is lazy, unprofessional and irresponsible. It’s not good for the brands you’ve been hired to promote and it’s not good for society. Our job as creatives is to face the challenge of these self-proclaimed discriminating consumers with messages and visuals that are strategic, emotionally resonating and meaningful. It’s what you’d do for any product or any consumer group at any time.
It’s not easy. But it is fundamental.