Relationship marketing is the concept that brands as an entity want to communicate and foster a sense of community and acceptance with the consumer- but does this message get tainted by the fact they’re selling a product? The idea that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism because the message is tainted by an ulterior motive is decidedly true by this definition. Through drawing attention to, and arguably exploiting, social issues are brands creating a better world or simply abusive emotional appeal for profit?
While initially the gut reaction to a company like Nike choosing Colin Kaepernick as a spokesmodel for their advertising campaign may seem like a milestone for social justice, the possibility that it was a calculated strategy to strengthen brand loyalty within its target market is a sobering reality that should be considered. In fact, it is a well-documented trend with major companies such as Starbucks, Hulu, and Amazon all following in its steps.
But do the companies actually care? With the exception of Hulu, Amazon, Nike, and Starbucks have all had major scandals in the past 5 years that directly contradict its “woke” and politically correct message. Nike has been documented running sweatshops, Amazon often comes under fire for its low wages and working conditions, and Starbucks has notably come under fire for its social profiling scandal.
From these moral conflicts, can we trust brands projected message of unity, peace, and tolerance? In some instances, yes. While the aforementioned brands directly contradict their project messages, brands that have embraced social media marketing are the ones you’d least expect- major fast food labels.
In particular are Steak-umms, Moon-Pie, and Little Debbie, which all strongly connect and engage with their audience to promote organic brand loyalty. Steak-umms, in particular, has just come under fire for their use of breaking the fourth wall narrative in order to discuss the meaning of social media, the influence in our mental health, and the cause of depression. While various media report this as a marketing tactic used to shill a product, I’m inclined to believe their commentary based on their practices alone.
The brand has incorporated the practice of “therapy Thursdays”, in which they invite their followers to message them with their problems in which the brand then gives earnest advice. This goes above and beyond even for relationship marketing and genuinely creates an emotional bond between consumer and brand.
So where is the line between profiting off emotional impact and relationship marketing? Personally, the phrase “practice what you preach” comes to mind. When brands obviously contradict the message they’re projecting, it comes off as fake and for profit. However, with Brands like Steak-umms investing emotional energy into the consumer, there seems to be hope for this trend.