What Food And Beverage Marketers Can Learn From The Presidential Primaries

In primary season of any presidential election, there is much chatter around the concept of "appealing to the base." Since each political party is interested in its own constituents choosing their candidate, "the base" tends to be composed of the most committed voters on either end of the political spectrum and, therefore, not necessarily reflective of the opinions of a more moderate middle (a 2011 Gallup poll reports that 40% of American voters are registered as independents).

Food and beverage brands can be arrayed on a similar spectrum, from the ardently organic to the insanely indulgent. As a food and beverage marketer, the question du jour is, where do I place my bet? Do I compete as if I'm in a primary and play to my base or do I compete like I'm in a general election and try to be more broadly appealing?

Of course, the answer depends on your brand. But more and more it appears that the fragmentation of media and audiences has created a long-term trend where a "primary voter" focus approach might serve best. 



We don't want to play it down the middle anymore and we don't have to. We don't need Uncle Walter Cronkite to provide us with a centric view of the news. We are quite happy to jump around the dial and the political spectrum. Bring on the extremes of Fox and MSNBC, we're quite capable of consuming it all and forming our own perspective. 

Mintel recently reported on a trend they called "Balance or Bust," where consumers weren't finding comfort in a moderate middle. Rather, they were finding harmony in embracing extremes in creating their own personalized sense of harmony. When it comes to food, that behavior encompasses both indulgence and sacrifice within the individual. Regular intake of fruit, veggies, legumes, nuts and the occasional bacon double cheeseburger works just fine as one person's idea of a moderate diet.  Another example of consumers achieving balance through a melding of extremes might be brown-bagging it for a few weeks in order to afford the high-end restaurant night out. And is the tiny-house trend just another example of trading down on housing in order to trade up on other things?

Our consumption of media just might look a lot like our consumption of food. Now we can binge-out and consume an entire series on Netflix in one sitting, while also nibbling on our social newsfeeds all day long.

As CPG marketers, we tend to hold onto the past longer than we should. We overspend where the eyeballs used to be and underspend where they are today. We focus too much on trying to create one broadly appealing position rather than more nimbly morphing the expression of our brands to be more specifically appealing to diverse audiences in diverse media. A brand can and should be broadly appealing. But in today's fragmented and complex world, that popularity needs to be built through customized pitches to different constituents.

The "establishment" in both parties seems to expect that Americans will eventually come to their senses during this primary season and finally succumb to the sensible notion of electing a more mainstream candidate to win the general election.  American consumer behavior suggests a greater comfort in embracing extremes in order to create balance. There doesn't appear to be much appeal in mainstream candidates or brands.

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