America Now: Navigating Political Polarization in an Election Year

Do you know how to navigate the modern political landscape with culturally nuanced and emotionally intelligent storytelling? Our award-winning study, “America Now,” shares best practices for brands to fuel growth and navigate polarization with cultural fluency.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

May 17, 2024
Jack Mackinnon – Senior Director, Cultural Insights

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Americans are contending with issues like inflation, “wokeness,” excitement and fears about the emergence of Generative Artificial Intelligence, and increased intensity around LGBTQ+ inclusion, especially transgender and non-binary issues. Swirling around in a landscape of political polarization, various brand action has been met with immense and often surprising backlash, leaving brands scrambling to respond.

To help member brands fuel growth, we share proprietary data and expert analysis to unveil the cultural values behind political polarization, demystify backlash, and highlight two thematic approaches to steering through the modern minefield of social and political issues.

This post includes a small sample of the deep cultural intelligence that fuels growth for our members. Contact us to unlock more content like this.

What Surprised Us:

The generational tug-of-war between Gen Z and Baby Boomers is a foundational source of polarization in the country and is instigating backlash towards brands. Generational tension isn’t a new phenomenon, but this culture shift is distinct from previous cycles in two ways:

1) Social media is amplifying individual opinions and aggravating conflict.

2) Real diversity in the United States is rapidly increasing the multitude of different cultural backgrounds and perspectives.

The Big Picture

To bridge the cultural divide and fuel brand growth, brands must act on 3 key truths:

Truth #1: Polarization Is Permanent

Political ideology now plays a bigger role in Americans’ identities, so brands must understand how that translates to personal values.

Action: Respond to amplified intersectionality, gender and sexuality shifts, and a generational transformation by telling stories that highlight a Collective Individualism – everyone’s unique identities are exactly what holds us together. Polarization is here to stay but it’s not binary. Avoid simplistic caricatures and speak to values over politics.

Truth #2: Backlash Is Inevitable

There is good news and bad news. The good news is that inclusive marketing is succeeding. Significantly more Americans now say they are satisfied with how their race, ethnicity, and sexuality are portrayed in advertising. The bad news is that bad actors are often using inclusive marketing as a wedge to provoke backlash. In order to deal with this backlash, brands must understand the nature of it and the source of that risk.

Backlash is inevitable, but it’s not all the same. Familiarize yourself with the types of backlash and protect your brand by knowing your risk and your audience.

These types include:

1) Sharing feedback about a bad experience – this risk is more apparent among conservative consumers

2) Breaking up with a brand an no longer buying from them – liberal consumers are more likely to pull this lever, and

3) Boycotting a brand and encouraging others to do the same – Liberals also engage in this type of backlash most frequently, but conservative consumers are close behind.

Action: Don’t freeze in the face of backlash. Inaction is the biggest risk. Growth will come by connecting with key consumer segments via engagement across social and political issues.

Truth #3: Brands Must (and Can) Engage

Consumers still demand brands engage in social and political issues. But doing this well doesn’t mean responding to individual issues (that can often lead to trouble), but rather speaking to powerful and unifying themes; specifically Personal Protections and Social Freedoms.

Action: Communicate across broad themes rather than getting bogged down in single issues. Don’t shy away from addressing social and political issues that fit your brand’s values and strategy.

Speak to Americans’ desire for Personal Protections: The world feels like a scary place right now and consumers want to know how you plan to look out for them.

Advocate for American’s Social Freedoms: Not everyone agrees about the specifics of modern inclusion, but most want the freedom to “be me.”

America Now is Collage Group’s signature research report identifying the national zeitgeist and how brands can build for growth within a complex national environment. America Now was first published during the pivotal year of 2020 and has since carved out a yearly, data-backed roadmap for greater brand engagement and consumer loyalty.

The world’s leading brands turn to Collage Group to build trust with this critical consumer segment and more. Contact us below for additional studies on how to connect with today’s consumers, and to learn how to make your brand a winner with high-growth segments.

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Jack Mackinnon

Jack Mackinnon

With more than 15 years of diverse consumer research experience, Jack Mackinnon offers deep expertise in Multicultural, Generational, LGBTQ+ consumers, and their intersection. Jack’s research extends into exploring culture-at-large, investigating broader societal trends not easily categorized into typical areas of research.

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