Meetings Canada


You win when you draw people in

Brand community-building can transform a “no” into a “yes” and vice versa.


One of the great things about travel is the opportunity to see how people interact in different cultures. And yet, the more you travel, the more you’ll find that people are people, wherever you go. There are fundamentals that hold true for all of us.

I experienced a great example of this when I attended the premiere of an Oscar-nominated foreign film recently. Okay, it was travelling of the armchair variety, but foreign films can often broaden the mind equally well!

Simply titled “No,” the film relates the story of a campaign to oust Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in the late 1980s. The unlikely hero is a young advertising creative director, who is called on to advise the anti-Pinochet coalition in a Yes-or-No referendum on extending the dictator’s presidency.

It’s a surprisingly fun, lighthearted and human film that, even with subtitles, feels intimate and personal. It is compelling largely because it is much more about people than politics.

René, the young ad man, is reluctant at first to get involved because it’s a distinctly poor career choice to take the “No” side. But when he sees the TV ad the coalition wants to run, filled with torture victims, statistics on the numbers of “disappeared” people and political prisoners, he can’t help asking, “Do you really think you’ll win with this?”

The frank answer from the opposition leaders is, of course not. The election, they say, is certainly rigged. And besides, the only two constituencies with any likelihood of joining their cause are the disaffected, unemployed youth and the impoverished elderly. But these two groups have nothing in common demographically and have completely divergent interests. “It’s impossible!” states one of the organizers.

Keeping a low profile from his boss, René is seen working at his kitchen table to design a hopeful, colourful logo and slogan. A positive attitude begins to take hold, but as the campaign progresses the regime puts its propaganda machine into high gear. With full-day control of the state TV channel, against the opposition’s allotted 15 minutes each night, the military-backed regime denies any atrocities or wrongdoing. The opposition wants to counter this lie by putting actual witnesses on screen. “We need more testimonials,” says the leader of the coalition. “No,” says René. “We need more humour!”

It won’t be a spoiler to tell you which side won, you can look it up in your history books because this is a real story. In the end, it was colour, humour and hope for the future that won the day.

The message is that you can’t build a strong, positive brand by shocking people. One of the great myths of advertising and marketing is the notion that all you have to do is shout loud and get attention to win in the marketplace. As this story illustrates so well, that wasn’t true in the ‘80s, and it’s even less true today. With the omnipresence of the Internet and social media, content that repels people rather than attracting them can hurt you faster than ever—and the repercussions can last longer than ever.

The way to win is to draw people in—this is what the brand community perspective makes clear. Some people think brand community is a new notion, invented in 2004 by Facebook. Actually, it’s not new at all. It’s one of those fundamental shared characteristics of people everywhere—they want to align themselves with communities with which they feel a positive connection.

An example of how this applies to the meeting and event planning industry was brought forward in the April.May 2013 issue of this magazine (“Hard Wired: Meetings Content Online,” page 21). It was noted that event organizers are hesitant to put the content of their meetings online. The fear is that potential attendees will stay away if they think the content is easily available, without the travel.

When you think about it, this is a negative approach to persuasion. It’s natural to want to say, “If you don’t come in person, you’ll miss out!” But it can be more powerful—and positive—to say, “Participate with us in any way that works for you.” In reality, many organizations have found that putting content online increases attendance at the next event. People see it and say, “I want to be part of that!”

Finding a positive way to express your brand values is the best way to win. Why? Because it draws people in!

Patrick McGovernPatrick McGovern is partner and chief strategy officer at Blade Creative Branding Inc., a Toronto-based branding, advertising and marketing solutions firm.

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