Exploiting Current or Cultural Events in Marketing Often Lacks Authenticity

starbuck_by_diablo2003Last week I visited a national park that is a civil war battlefield. During a conversation with the Ranger at the visitor center, she mentioned that the national park service had encouraged each park to do a promotion that tied in with the release of the new Star Wars movie. She explained that several parks came up with good promotions, especially those where Star Wars had been filmed or had an obvious connection.

I asked what promotion her park had come up with and the Ranger stated, “I had several ideas to tie it in with the rebels but thought better of it. The Civil War still hits a nerve with many people here and I didn’t want any backlash from our members or supporters in comparing it to a movie. In any case, the connection was a real stretch.” Unfortunately many marketers didn’t use the same discretion and tried to get on the cultural trending whether it made sense or not.

I have literally been bombarded the last few weeks with marketing messages and articles about ____ is like Star Wars, Use the Force to _____, or ____ leads to the dark side. Some of those messages or promotions were attention grabbing with a witty or amusing connection. Many were a real stretch and appeared to only be interested in exploiting a cultural trend.

There are only two marketing scenarios where using trending current or cultural events has authentic impact:

  • There is a direct and obvious connection to be drawn.
  • There is a personal connection to the cultural event where the author or poster is very knowledgeable or a large fan.

Star Wars is a major cultural event with wide exposure so it’s easy to understand why so many people wanted to use it for marketing purposes. But without a clear connection, it can ring hollow as an artificial attempt at tapping into keywords or riding a trend’s coattails.

This is especially damaging if it’s a regular tactic in a trainer, consultant, or professional coach’s marketing mix. Using every cultural trend reflects a lack of sincerity. Like a politician kissing babies, it tends to raise doubts and suspicions rather than credibility. If you have an authentic connection, then by all means display that connection in your marketing communications. But remember that it’s impossible to have a connection with every current or cultural event so don’t overdo it.

Is this article hypocritical being posted as The Force Awakens continues to rule the box office? Maybe, but as a lifelong Star Wars fan; I thought I might get a pass.

Image courtesy of  diablo2003 / deviantart.com

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