Content in the Time of Trump

If the Big Chill came out today, all the characters would just sit around talking about Trump for the whole movie. — Dave Pell

Last November my team and I decided sharing thought leadership and other types of content should wait — until after January 20. Taking the time and resources to craft editorial pieces with our authors when they might not be read didn’t make sense. We believed, and rightfully so, that the media would focus on the incoming administration until then. It was hard to compete in the aftermath of the election, where shock and awe prevailed.

So, we waited for the new year, riding out the swirl and spin, until industry news and thought leadership would resurface.

The inauguration has come and gone. And this was to be the time when content — the type we create every day — was to make its mark again. When we would get back to our so-called normal, where creativity, innovation, and technology are the talk of the town. Our industry feeds off these topics. They make us think about where we’re at and what opportunities lie ahead.

Instead, we’ve entered unchartered waters. From sports analysts and DC pundits to Teen Vogue and Advertising Age, everyone is still in campaign-mode. No matter what media outlet you choose, no matter how specific the category, cabinet nominees, executive orders, and tweet-storms are dominating print, online, and social media.

It’s fair to ask, how do brands, agencies, content creators — we the people — break through in the Time of Trump, and more importantly, should we even try?

Today, when people are detained at airports, office party pics seem trivial. The video of a dog’s new trick amidst footage of demonstrations falls flat. Pictures from a trip to Mexico conjure up the wall and uncertainty. And the seemingly random article on marketing best practices is jarring.

In the blink of an eye, a paradigm shift. Do we even try to compete?

Content creators are faced with a challenge. We can choose to ignore the unprecedented acts taking place, attempt business as usual, and hope thought leadership, creative, and PR rises above the political cacophony.

Or we can join the dialogue. With an authentic voice, we can acknowledge the elephant in the room.

There is risk in either choice.

Out-of-touch messages don’t fare well. Coupled with daily, stress-inducing news — from the right and the left — they may only serve to turn audiences away. In a world where people are looking for authenticity and transparency, not standing for something speaks volumes. Staying neutral comes with a cost.

Taking a stance and speaking to the issues will not sit well with everyone either. The country is divided. Social media is no longer the lighthearted playground it once was. Brands are taking on social justice issues, and risk alienating some of their consumers.

But tapping into the emotion that brought at least 3.7 million people to participate in the Women’s March (the largest, peaceful demonstration in US history) even if we all don’t agree, is not trivial. Quite the contrary, as Kim Tracy, VP account lead at Barker, recently observed in Advertising Age: “What a powerful thing to have a brand hook into that cultural zeitgeist to provide something or stand for something that maybe can mean a little bit of something great to everybody. Or almost everybody. The holy grail of advertising.”

Brands want a part of that. Nike, Ford, Sephora, Audi, Dove, and others are using satire and inspirational stories in support of equality and inclusivity in their advertising. Consumers use their buying power — think #GrabMyWallet, Sleeping Giants, and the Boycott Trump app. Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump wares made the evening news.

In the middle of all this, I cannot help but wonder, where does editorial fit? What is the ROI on developing a provocative piece on commerce or mobile trends, when political and social unrest eclipses all else in the media?

And so I pen “Content in the Time of Trump.”