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Opinion and Insight

Can Brand Marketing Help Unite America?

Grey's togetherness study wide-ranging research taps marriage counsellors and more to determine whether brands can bring people together in an age of division

Can Brand Marketing Help Unite America?

Grey New York has released a proprietary study titled The Famously Effective Business of Togetherness examining U.S. consumer perspectives on our perceived national division and providing a road map to brands that are – intentionally or incidentally –finding their place in public discussion around how to bring people together.

The study finds that U.S. consumers feel divided but welcome unity, even if it comes from brands – though the most helpful brands are those that commit to action versus lip service. 

The methodology explores the definition of togetherness in larger culture and in marketing.  It includes quantitative surveys and content testing in addition to “togetherness therapy” where marriage counselors moderated discussions between Americans who differed strongly on issues. In those discussions, counselors helped “divided” participants examine the behaviors and relationships they could create to help understand and respect opposing viewpoints.

The study demonstrates that togetherness is a big concern for America; 63 percent are dissatisfied with the current state of unity in the country, and 88 percent agree that “we must unite and come together.” But people are ambiguous about their openness to brand involvement: while 50 percent think that brands should stop getting political and instead focus on selling, 60 percent think that brands should still try to bring people together.

“People want togetherness and don’t know how to achieve it – which is why it has never been so difficult for a brand to create broad cultural appeal. As large groups become fragmented based on perceived divisions, brands face real challenges. Marketers are asking themselves if they can express their values without alienating people and creating more divisions,” says Debby Reiner, CEO of Grey New York. “In a world where everything feels more divisive, we want to help brands improve their efforts take real, meaningful action – to connect with large audiences in ways that advance their business. And actions will speak louder than ever.”

The research showed that 88% of Americans believe “We must unite and come together. It will be a difficult and painful process but in the end we will be a stronger and happier country.” Other key findings:

NO MIDDLE GROUND: 51 percent say that finding the middle ground is essential to coming together— though only 25 percent consider their POV to be in the middle.
MOVED TO FEEL BUT NOT TO ACT: 73% say that a brand or ad has made them feel a sense of togetherness before, but more than 60% claim their buying behavior is unaffected by togetherness efforts.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS: 46% of people think financial donations are crucial to brands looking to create togetherness and 44% say that donating time is essential. Fewer people – 39% – think that advertising with a uniting message counts as forging togetherness.
SOCIAL DISTORTION: Social media was often listed as a source of conflict, with 49% of people saying that social media brings out the worst in people.
(DIS)TRUST MEDIA: More than 1 out of 5 people who don’t trust the media use stats from the media to support their own points anyway.
INTERPERSONAL DIVIDES: 58% of people think there’s not enough respect in conversations when people disagree.
POP CULTURE OVER POLITICS: Almost twice as many people think Oprah Winfrey would be best at bringing Americans together versus Donald Trump. Both were considered more powerful forces for togetherness than the Pope, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. 

“There’s a creative opportunity here for agencies to provide ideas that transcend ads, and to create togetherness that transcends politics – with experiential, social, technology, and business model solutions – to help address a human challenge and do good for the world,” said Grey Worldwide Chief Creative Officer John Patroulis. “Brands driven by values or conscience can make a difference, but ads alone can be damaging to your brand.”

 “The worst thing to do, in trying to address togetherness, is to do it poorly,” said Grey Global Strategic Planning Director Suresh Nair. “Real commitment and action must be at the core of your strategy.”

The study is the first in the Famously Effective Business Series – a twice-yearly insights report on the social dynamics brands must understand to drive business with culturally resonant marketing, which is how Grey defines "Famously Effective." 

The research was conducted in partnership with System1, which assessed the story of unity in America; Adam’s Egg, which managed the marriage counselor sessions between participants with opposing beliefs; Unruly, which tested 6,000 respondents to determine the emotional impact of select ads promoting togetherness through its content testing tool UnrulyEQ; and Lightspeed, which provided quantitative data from 1,000 nationally representative respondents across key demographics. 

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