Overcoming the Backlash Risk: Lessons Learned from Polarizing Ads Featuring Diverse Segments

Learn how to use culturally nuanced and emotionally intelligent storytelling to effectively navigate the modern polarization landscape.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

November 3, 2023
Victor Paredes – Executive Director of Multicultural Strategy

A majority of Americans, at 72%, assert that brands should engage with social and political issues. While advertising is one of the primary avenues for brands to take a stand, it poses significant challenges for marketers in today’s contentious cultural landscape, where social issues often spark polarizing debates. Collage Group’s signature CultureRate:Ad methodology helps discern key strategies for creating advertising messages that effectively manage the risk of backlash.

Read on and download a sample of the Overcoming the Backlash Risk report to learn how to leverage polarization to your advantage.

Overcoming the Backlash Risk - deck example

What Surprised Us:

One might think that for ads to succeed, they must steer clear of polarization altogether. However, this isn’t the case. Differing opinions on an ad’s content, its emotional resonance, or the people and issues it showcases don’t inherently diminish its effectiveness. In fact, 44% of the top-performing ads spark strong disagreement among viewers.

Insights from CultureRate Analysis of Polarizing Ads

At Collage Group, we measure cultural fluency of ads by gauging consumer sentiment across 4 key dimensions: Brand Fit, Relevance, Message, and Enjoyment. These dimensions are weighed and combined to create the Ad Cultural Fluency Quotient (A-CFQ) score. A-CFQ score is especially significant as it predicts consumer purchase intent and brand favorability. Additionally, we capture viewer emotions (e.g., happiness, sadness, anger, boredom, etc.) and reactions to key ad characteristics among other conventional ad testing measures.

In 2023, we tested and analyzed over 100 ads. To better guide marketers in effectively navigating a culturally polarized landscape, we homed in on 3 metrics: Identity connection (determined by the personal Relevance of each ad), Emotion, and A-CFQ, which measures the overall performance of the ad.

Key Insight #1: Consumers Can Reward Ads Even If Those Ads Are “Not for Me”

Nearly 40% of high-performing ads create a divide among viewers based on identity connection. These ads score well even when audiences are split on their personal relevance. Yet, such success is hardly accidental.

Top performers leverage what we at Collage Group call the Halo Effect, or the positive impact that cultural specifics have on out-of-culture observers. Many viewers resonate with authentic and culturally nuanced storytelling even if they don’t share the protagonist’s identity or heritage. For insights on deploying the Halo Effect successfully and sidestepping potential pitfalls, check out the NFL and Bud Light Case Studies in the full report.

Insight versus action chart regarding identity polarization

Lesson Learned: Cultural Specificity Rooted in Brand Values Magnifies Halo Effects

Exercise cultural specificity, unearth intersectional stories and keep to your purposes

Key Insight #2: Consumers Reject Ads That Leave Negative Emotions Unresolved

Navigating emotional disagreement is a more delicate balance for brands. Just 18% of the top-performing ads are highly polarized on emotions. However, it is possible to turn negative sentiment to your advantage by leveraging the Kindling Effect, which harnesses powerful emotions triggered by an ad, to motivate consumer actions. Read the SoFi and Servant Foundation Case Studies to learn how to craft compelling narratives that do not let negative emotions fester without resolution.

Insight vs Action in emotional polarization chart

Lesson Learned: Emotionally Resonant Stories Provide Catharsis through Action

Emotionally Resonant Stories Provide Catharsis through Action bullet points

Contact us below to find out how you can access the full CultureRate report and learn how to use culturally nuanced and emotionally intelligent storytelling to effectively navigate the modern polarization landscape.

Victor Paredes

Victor Paredes

Victor leverages his expertise in inclusive marketing and advertising in combination with Collage’s proprietary data and insights, to support clients. He is a successful marketing and advertising executive with proven experience in building practices that drive brand equity, sales, traffic, and qualified leads. His marketing experience spans sectors such as entertainment, hospitality, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, retail, and direct to consumer services.

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