Perspectives

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Memes skewer PR & branding #Fails

Memes skewer PR & branding #Fails

I live and work in the state of North Carolina, which this year saw it's Republican-dominated legislature call a special session and enact what has become known as the Bathroom Bill.  It was initiated and signed into law in a single day. It is a misguided piece of legislation that strips a number of well-established workplace rights from citizens, along with the clauses pertaining to transgender people and bathrooms.  From a marketing communications and positioning perspective, it has been an unmitigated disaster for the state, and it has garnered a lot of ironic humor skewering the people and issues the bill supposedly addresses in the form of memes.

Despite the protestations of Governor McCrory to the contrary, the negative fallout was quick and brutal, and the ongoing impact is continuing. Estimates have put the loss of revenue at $5 billion annually from industry and business pullouts, boycotts, and withdrawal of Title IX federal dollars. Other estimates put the cost to the state at 20% of its annual budget. This goes hand in hand with changing the perceptions of the state from moderate to a conservative backwater. This directly negatively impacts its ability to tap into the progressive, forward-looking and innovative thinking required by entrepreneurs and and modern companies seeking employees with competitive skills-sets in a disruptive, 21st Century economy.

While comments sections generate more heat than light, especially in a year in which Donald Trump has made racism and intolerance mainstream again, the growth of a plethora of memes ridiculing the legislation and regressive policies deserves some consideration from a marketing communications and positioning perspective.

Companies don't want to be associated with bad press or locations in which it is difficult to attract a diverse workforce.  On top of that, simple, catchy, funny and negative memes shared virally - and to which it is too easy to pin to a corporation - is simply bad business, so distancing themselves from the state makes good sense.

 

The flip side of negative press is equally true. For example, Target's pro-LGBT stance in response to the bill has generated it a substantial amount of good will and positive press. The LGBT community represents almost $800 billion in annual buying power. Credit Suisse has launched an LGBT Equality Portfolio to tap into this spending at the shareholder level, and other studies show that inclusiveness has a positive impact on the bottom line.

Many memes spark their own hashtags, so #peckercheckermcrory doesn't look good on the legacy sheet. In the spaces where memes are shared, like Reddit, 4Chan, SomethingAwful, Imgur, Instagram, Tumblr - and Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and blogs - one meme becomes the opportunity to pile on. So in the gallery below are some of the others that are being shared - and reshared - as part of the same conversations. It should be born in mind that the life of a meme is ongoing. Some memes have been viewed by more than 80-90 million people. Grumpy Cat has reportedly earned its owner $100 million. That's a lot of traffic.

The fact that memes like this even exist is a clear indication of the damage being done by this regressive legislation that puts the state on the wrong side of history. From a PR perspective for the state, reversing course is the only option - lipstick on a pig can't hide the fact that it's a pig. Most of the legislators who voted in favor of this bill don't care; they are in gerrymandered districts and many are running unopposed.  McCrory is in a different place. Whether he survives the election or not, his legacy will be forever associated with the signing of this bill, which will be dismantled clause by clause by higher courts and ongoing litigation. And with each courtcase, the cost in lost earnings to the state will be tallied. And more memes will follow and be shared and piggyback on the folly of this decision. It may have been a cynical political calculation for re-election for him to have signed this bill, but the advice he received to have done so was short-sighted, to say the least.

This legislation will hurt the state more and more the longer it exists, along with the LGBT citizens - and people who have lost workplace rights - that it directly impacts. It is an ethical, PR, and economic development ‪#‎Fail‬. 

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Sunday, 22 September 2019

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