BIG Is Bad
March 9, 2021
Part 1 of Our Series on The New American Middle—The Center of Everything
Size Does Matter—BIG Is Bad
This paper addresses one big cultural phenomenon that all members of the New American Middle (NAM) oppose—bigness. The NAM universally questions—and increasingly opposes—big institutions and organizations, big government, big corporations, and big consumer brands. Any brand that approaches consumers as mere “transactional units,” or as simple statistics, is at risk of alienating their most loyal consumers and squandering the brand equity built over the earlier growth years.
Marketers have grown used to viewing consumers as two-dimensional objects, but with so many modern resources at every consumer’s fingertips, they—we—are the most well-rounded and well-informed population in the history of the world. True, we may not always be the most rational, or even the most predictable, when it comes to our purchasing habits, and our decisions are initiated by a kind of fuzzy logic that is backed up by a logical “reason” afterwards.
Like many consumer groups, the NAM rewards brands that reflect their values and help them furnish their lives with ideas and products that reinforce their preferred lifestyles. Understanding the NAM set of values is the key to reflecting their expectations back to them. Of course, the NAM understands that brands are moneymaking ventures, but as brand messaging loses its relevance—the vocabulary becoming more commercial than it is inclusive, more tell than show—the worm turns. They accept the role of customer but often chafe when clumped into a mass consumer group.
Women, the center of the NAM, can sniff out this change better than most; when they recognize they are being sold, they dig in their feet. Brands that double down with desperate discounts, flooding consumers’ email inboxes and retargeting them in intrusive ways, will no longer just be ignored—they will be actively punished. The brands “I used to love” will pay the price as their former loyalists become the wrong kind of influencers.
How Big Became Bad—A Brief History
Ever since the 1960s, the American public has been confronted with an ongoing litany of governmental and corporate scandals. Dan Rather showed the ugly side of the Vietnam War—all guts, no glory. Nixon’s Watergate. Enron and healthcare fraud. The explosion of available information via the internet and social media gave everyone access to the world’s collective knowledge and history, and it also gave them a method to publish their own opinions about it. The public became aware of their own collective naivete.
Since 2015 there has been an entirely new level of influence and intrusion by large, powerful forces. Recalling Dickens’s opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”—we might conclude that we are still caught in that vise.
The best of times? We all have more choices and resources than ever before. It is empowering. It feels good. And it’s about time!
The worst of times? The world is complicated. The bad stuff all seems to intrude from the top down. It comes from big influences that we can neither understand nor control. Threats to our new freedoms come in the form of “big” influences. The NAM’s core values are impacted by social engineering that is not welcome. In fact, they seem pretty angry about it.
And Then More Recently …
The last 50 years is nothing compared to the last 15. Here is the brief:
- Big Business, Big Banking, and Wall Street: The Enron fraud scandal is in full view by 2004. Big banking’s role in the economic crisis of 2008 follows and remains on everyone’s minds until this day. We’re still recovering. We all learn that there are financial institutions that are too big to fail (TBTF).
- Big Government: Close behind TBTF is the understanding that big government was negligent by allowing the crisis to happen in the first place and then complicit in bailing out the villains of big banking.
- Big Media: We see that the press can be bought and sold as the power of the press consolidates. Local newspapers fail to big, non-local influences.
- Big Advertising: It enables political ambition with negative ads and lies (depending on the viewer’s POV). As the public’s rating of Congress continues to decline, the advertising world is implicated as well. Besides, we don’t like the way brands sell to us. Turn on the ad blockers and skip over the commercials.
- Big Tech: Why do so many big tech firms look like old-fashioned monopolies? It is hard to get the public’s minds around just what big tech even does. What they do understand is identity theft and the constant invasions of privacy.
- Big Pharma: Healthcare costs rocket up, as do the number of medical fraud cases. Bribes and kickbacks to doctors. Off-label uses and over-prescription of deadly opioids. That creepy mark-up guy, Martin Shkreli, as well big-eyed sweetheart Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos. Big pharma’s impact on my wallet is proof enough.
- Social Media: We learned that influencers make a lot of money. And yet, social media is how fake news seems to be distributed. Plus, “I googled around and found this from back in the day.”
- Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
- Zuck: Just ask.
- Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
- [Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
- Zuck: People just submitted it.
- Zuck: I don’t know why.
- Zuck: They “trust me”
- Zuck: Dumb f&:!s
- Big Religion: We are painfully aware of the scandals and betrayals of religious institutions, from the infidelity of televangelists to pedophilia among priests to terrorists killing in the name of God.
In 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler published his book Future Shock. In it, he predicted cultural paralysis resulting from stress, as well as disorientation resulting from “too much change in too short a period of time.” While society has made adaptations in ways Toffler did not predict, many of the effects of his predictions echo through to our current times. Fifty years is not a lot of time to process the cultural changes we have experienced.
The pace of change has dramatically quickened in the last 15 years. Screen time consumes much of our time. The world has never been a harmonious place, but very few people have the tools to sift through the quantity of information we are bombarded with every day. Being an informed voter has become a full-time job due to all the time it takes to sort through the lies, the fake news, the everchanging political agendas, and the emotions to find tangible facts.
With this short history in mind, we will continue to explore how the New American Middle responds to big brands in future articles in Big Brands–Too Big to Care.
By Jeff Britton, Eric Howell and the teams at Britton Marketing & Design www.bmdg.com and Bright Brand Performance Group www.bbpg.agency. Copyright July 8, 2020