We’re Mad As Hell And We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore.

No matter what your politics, the Massachusetts Senate race illustrates the anger and impatience of American voters – who also use their wallets to vote for products and services every day.As the Peter Finch character in “Network” implored, Bay Staters did the equivalent of going to their windows and shouting, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

The election of Scott Brown is the equivalent of a loyal American Airlines frequent flier with two million lifetime miles abruptly deciding to fly “No-Name Airlines” or a life-long Coke user switching to “Bob’s Good-Cola.”Fifty years of history and brand loyalty undone in a matter of months with a move from the Kennedy brand and all it represents to the people of Massachusetts to a virtual unknown on the other side of the aisle.

If this can happen so abruptly in politics, can the same happen in the marketplace? Are established brands as vulnerable to the same phenomenon, and if so, are there opportunities for upstarts to tap into voter/consumer sentiment and topple them?

The major difference between political and consumer marketing seems to be the knee-jerk tendency of the former to go negative and bash away repeatedly. Facts are twisted and outright lies are often propagated.

We consistently hear in our consumer focus groups that, “Negative advertising (or even comparative advertising) is a turn off,” and few, if any brands, ever “sink to the level” of bad-mouthing a competitor to the extent the politicians do it.

Which is not to say that there aren’t some hard-hitting, competitive ads out there.Car companies, mobile phone networks, packaged foods brands and others frequently name competitors’ names in staking their claims of superiority. While we learned in business school that such strategies are better suited to brand challengers rather than brand leaders, we now see companies like Verizon Wireless supplementing its successful “best network” campaign with direct comparisons of its “3G Network Coverage” with the much sparser coverage of rival AT&T.;

But do these types of ads tap into the raw anger that is so apparent in our society at present?Probably not.It’s just a cell phone, not your savings, your career, your health or anything else that elicits raw feelings of helplessness or insecurity.

Or does it?

Consumers can get awfully worked up about products and services.Credit cards and airlines are two good examples. Speaking from a personal perspective, I can tell you that every time I fly American Airlines (I am that 2 million mile person) and don’t get upgraded, the experience leaves me feeling angry, emotionally drained, physically exhausted and even in pain.My shoulders are wider than the coach seats. The seat ahead of me, unless I’m lucky enough to get a bulkhead or emergency exit row, is so close to me, that I not only feel claustrophobic, but I can’t even open up my laptop computer all the way to work. There’s absolutely nothing decent to eat.

If United came to me tomorrow, acknowledged my anger directly and offered to transfer my miles and status while offering a more humane experience in coach, I would jump at the chance to switch airlines.

The key is tapping into my anger in a timely manner. United would have to trash American – not unfairly – by laddering up from the bad food, lack of room, etc. to something much bigger. At American you are cattle. You should be mad as hell! At United you are a human being and deserve to be treated as such. Don’t let them take advantage of you! Don’t internalize your anger, do something about it that will make you feel good about yourself!

This applies well beyond airlines, the banking industry and other obvious categories.Maybe a soup company or a casual dining chain is killing you with fat and sodium.There’s something to be angry about!Or a cell phone company is just ripping you off with hidden charges or not giving you the coverage it says it provides.

It’s precisely what the politicians do – successfully.One might argue that brand images may be irreparably harmed by this approach.Again, with politics as the model, this does not seem to be the case.Such tactics tend to reinforce the base and reach out to those disgruntled people who have not made up their minds, providing a severe shock that forces them to reconsider their world view.

Going negative is risky business for a brand, especially an established one. But these unconventional times call for unconventional actions to be successful.With the relatively new and powerful tool of social media and marketing available, it would seem that a two-prong approach – positive on TV and so called “traditional” media, scathingly negative online – might be something to consider as a way to steal market share quickly and effectively.

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