DANA POINT, CA: Brands need a deeper appreciation of the social and political context shaping consumers' lives in order to protect and progress their businesses at a "disorienting" time, a leading executive from American Greetings has argued.

Alex Ho, Executive Director/Marketing at American Greetings Corp., LLC, discussed this subject at the Association of National Advertisers' (ANA) 2017 Brand Masters Conference.

"Something is happening today that is unlike any other time in recent history," he said. (For more, read Warc's exclusive report: American Greetings brings analog emotion to digital marketing.)

"Consumers have a voice, and they are using that voice to stand up [with] protests, marches and coordinated efforts on social media."

The divisiveness on show across America, Ho told the ANA assembly, "is affecting not just politics, but businesses and brands".

American Greetings has found that a majority of Americans "think we, as a whole, are less civil" than in the past – a symptom of wider splits in the social fabric.

"It's fair to say we are at a moment in time where, once again, the times are a changin'. That's the backdrop of this consumer, and we need to be sensitive to that," Ho said.

"We need to protect our brands in the environment that we face today ... The world is a little bit disorienting right now. And if you think that doesn't affect business – that it's a political-only issue – you might not have been reading the news."

An example: the #DeleteUber campaign, where an estimated 200,000 users removed the taxi app from their phones after it turned off "surge pricing" at JFK airport in New York when taxi drivers went on strike to protest President Trump's travel ban.

If that number represents a tiny fraction of Uber's total user base, it also hit brand perceptions, as well as threatening new business and customer retention.

"The point is, something happened … And it's going to happen again," Ho said. "Three weeks ago, it was Uber. Tomorrow, could it be you? Are you ready?" he added.

“Are you ready for what will happen in today's consumer-empowered world, in which we no longer push our messages out to consumers? In marketing today, whether we like it or not, we are compelled to have a conversation."

Data sourced from Warc