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What We Learned From The Election

Brenda Martinez

12 DECEMBER 2020

After a week that’s felt like a year, we can all be relieved: the election, for the most part, is over. Months, if not years, of build-up led to a flurry of sources declaring a winner, from CNN to PopCrave to the highly-anticipated Bossip headline. Last week, we all collectively shared election memes and refreshed the election map — this week, maybe we don’t really need any more election content. But here at tp*, we know memes have meanings, and as cultural observers, we were consumed by how social media at large collectively processed a huge moment in an incredible, if exhausting, year. We always dig into the whys of a moment to parse through what it may mean for us individually and collectively; last week was no exception. Read on for our learnings from the election and what they mean for the marketing world.

The nature of brand responses has evolved

Brands across industries, from beauty to footwear, all championed voting in the leadup to the election. And while most brands opted to watch the results unfold without commenting, a few brands spoke up – to mixed results. In a quickly-deleted Tweet, Gap called for a collective move forward. The tweet came across as tone-deaf at best and oblivious at worst.

After this summer’s wave of protests and demonstrations, the culture collectively shifted the meaning of ‘neutral’ brand positioning — to take no position at all is still very much a position. But the thing is: brands do not have to engage all the time, on every issue. Sometimes, it’s better to step back and observe instead of interrupting.

Minorities are not a monolith - that means your customer isn't, either

Black voters across the country were, without a doubt, decisive in this election. And some Latinx voters were, too — Latinx voters in Florida undoubtedly swung the state red, confusing pundits who continue to assume the Latinx community at large is a single, unified group. This election has proven that brands don’t have a single Black customer or a single Latinx customer: they have multiple, each representing different cultures, communities, histories, and geographies.

TikTok isn’t just a disruptive platform, it’s a platform for discourse

In and amongst the dancing on TikTok is its capability to define collectives, spread information, and react in real-time to world events. While the platform continues to be easy to dismiss, it’s a powerful, dynamic tool that functions as a site for conversation and social action, especially for Gen Z. Whether sharing memes about slow election results, discussing Trump’s claims of fraud or eventually, conservatives conceding to the new presidency, TikTok was a place for people, especially young voters who turned out in droves, to process the results and their emotions. And, using a similar tactic as before, TikTokers once again convened to spam DJT’s voter fraud hotline, making it ineffective by flooding it with spam calls.

The tangible continues to be important

For all of the ways in which we live in our lives online and continue to make the most of digital moments, we still value what we can touch, whether it’s a physical copy of a newspaper to a sweater giving new meaning to a blunder. We’ve previously brought up the importance of charity merch, noting that it often expresses the shared values between consumer and brands. But it’s not just tangible products that matter. From community aid groups offering water, snacks, and entertainment to voters, to the surge of celebrations in the street after the results, the most impactful moments of human connection are still happening IRL.

There is power in unmitigated joy

With the news that Biden was the projected winner, the country erupted in cheerful celebrations – from DC to Los Angeles to the heart of the party, New York. After a particularly grim year and a grueling election process, it was refreshing to see such an emotional shift and a necessary reminder that we were all in need of joy in our lives. While the celebrations over the weekend were spontaneous, there is plenty of opportunity to foster joy in the coming weeks, especially as the holidays approach. For brands, this weekend was a reminder to not co-opt joy by being overtly branded — instead, partner with people in such a way that your brand is incidental to joy, making it a fuller, richer experience rather than driving it, and show up in unexpected places outside of Los Angeles and New York to create new sites for celebration.

The culture has inexorably changed this year, and no doubt the uncertainty of the election played a role in some of those changes. But the election has also served as a reminder: of joy, of the importance of discourse, of the power of the collective.

Want to have a conversation about what we’re learning from our social and cultural observations? Drop us a line.

Love,
Brenda