Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Inequality for All: How Do You Advertise to That?

Inequality for All 1928-2007
From the minute the photographer from the Wall Street Journal asked my name, after shooting me at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations of 2011, I knew that moment would follow me forever. So did I want to be identified by this for the rest of my life? Did I even understand the answer to that question? And the answer to both questions was always another question. But I was out of work and there for that reason alone, so if I could get press for practicing my profession, getting publicity for my clients, why shouldn't I? And the rest is indeed now history. And the Occupy story of highlighting income inequality has now become part of the public debate with everyone from the Pope to President Obama to New York mayor Bill deBlasio chiming in. Even the New York Times observes: "The Middle Class is Steadily Eroding - Just Ask the Business World". But as an advertiser, what should you do if your consumer base is the middle class?

Sunday's Super Bowl commercials were an interesting case study with Maserati leading the game with a commercial that only the 1% could relate to and Esurance running a spot after the game that reportedly saved them 30%, the same percentage they say they can save you on car insurance. And somewhere in the middle was everyone else, but nowhere was a company truly empathizing with a middle class (the Super Bowl fan base) that's quite obviously taken a beating over the last few years - and that to me, seemed like a lost opportunity.

The film, "Inequality For All", a sort of economic "Inconvenient Truth" features economist Robert Reich in a fascinating expose on how America's extreme income inequality is bad for everyone. The key graph from the film (above) shows how income inequality in 2007-2012 nearly matches that of the US before the great depression and explains how America ranks worst among developed countries in economic fairness - even worse that Iran and Nigeria, countries much less developed. To see the complete film, click here. For a quick explain, see the clip above.

But for every advertiser today the questions remain: What will they do as their market dries up? Or what will they do to stop it? Companies who pay their employees properly are already on the right track but companies like McDonald's and WalMart really should be worried. Why should we all have to subsidize their employees' meager paychecks through federal food stamps and when will people stop patronizing them because they participate in the US equivalent of child labor by paying their employees like children? What I'd like to see is a company who comes out and truly embraces their customers  by warmly understanding their needs. Viewing the film above is as good a start as any but also click on the previous link, and learn about a company who took a leadership stance by admitting their industry had problems and vowing to fix them.