Is Free Speech Dead?
Recently, I saw a segment on CBS Sunday Morning that shocked me. A young student was talking about how she was adamant about stopping a speaker from appearing on campus.
At campuses all over America, administrations are dealing with a new phenomenon. What was once the safest place to share new ideas freely, today is being challenged. What was once the primary environment for discourse and argument to support intellectual curiosity is truly being stifled.
Where is this new thinking stemming from? How do marketers react to it?
The Need for Civil Discourse
It appears that Americans are no longer listening to each other unless, they like what they hear. Social media and news feeds continue to reinforce much of the opinions, values, and feelings that each of us live by. And yes marketers are leveraging this phenomenon aggressively.
America was founded on different thinking and we need to debate our ideas. When confronted by different values and opinions, we learn, we adjust our thinking, we build more understanding as well as conviction. Civil discourse creates engagement and when we engage we build relationships.
Generation ME & Z, What it Means for Marketers
How can anyone on a college campus possibly not understand the implications of our 1st Amendment and that by prohibiting free speech for someone else, you risk eliminating your right to protests or speak on your beliefs.
That is why there is no better time than now for marketers to begin to help create the conversations with the Youth of America. Most marketers have chosen to appease the values of their targets, while others have chosen to challenge them. Either strategy works and creates emotion, passion and yes, risk. But the point is, it creates engagement of heart.
Today, some marketers stroke egos to simply have prospective customers engage. The best example I can give is the new Apple iPhone X. It is Mahammad Ali’s “I am the greatest” speech, with images of selfies. Apple fully understands the ego needs of their customers today and how their marketing must connect with this I am #1 mentality. Is Apple preying on the beliefs of this new entitled and selfish generation or is it just a great ad?
Then we see marketers taking the other approach, as was seen on the Super Bowl this year. Marketers facing head on the issues of today. T-Mobile’s ad touch upon the issues changing America, like diversity, equality, and gay rights, all while defining a moral high ground. Toyota did a great job connecting the religions of the world working together in a humorous commercial ending with the line – “We are all one team”.
Free Speech is the Heart of Advertising
What we are seeing is that marketers are aggressively positioning their brands in controversy just to get the conversation going and gain recognition. From protestor and organizers to safe space advocates, there is a message that resonates with each. And marketers are using every trick in the book to connect with each target on their own terms and beliefs.
I am not sure what the young woman at the university thought she was achieving by trying to silence others on a moral ground. When we hear others and listen, we create greater harmony, albeit with internal strife and external disagreements. Smart marketers have taken on a unique role today to make sure that no-one silences a voice and free speech is honored.
I once asked an old-time ad executive what he did for a living. He responded, “I sell things people don’t need, can’t afford or will never use.” I am proud to say that most of us don’t feel that way and today we see some great creative work that is leveraging the opportunity to sell something we, in America, desperately need – “Civil Discourse” – all while selling a product and making the world (USA) a better place!