Why brands pit one audience against another and lose both

There must be something about advertising to guys that makes top brands do strange things. Less than a year ago Pepsi was royally and rightly reprimanded for its AMP Cola iPhone app that told men to “AMP up before they score”, Coca-Cola is making an equally tasteless appeal on behalf of Coke Zero. Their site invites men to date three half-dressed dressed women at a time and get them to do what they desire.

Now I’m a guy and I certainly get what part of the male brain they are appealing too, but how does this gel with the same brand that is promoting Open Happiness around the globe. What’s more the campaign includes an iPhone app called the Cleaner that allows you to select who you want to stop snooping on your phone and can launch fake text messages, agendas and photos as protection.

As a guy who gets advertising and the male brain, I would prefer to be credited with a little more intelligence than this campaign implies. Yes, I’m on the wrong side of 40 (or simply twice as bad as 20 year old), but neither the concept nor the execution does justice to a sophisticated brand like Coca-Cola, and it does a remarkably good job of alienating men and women in a single campaign.

Brands need to be able to speak to different audience without alienating others. This requires a shift in mindset. Instead of letting the audiences set the course and tone for your brand, it must become its own compass. For once the brand is defined, it can speak to any number of different audiences with consistency.

Examples of inconsistency in messaging demonstrate how hard it is for a brand to be truly and consistently defined. Not only is it hard work, but it must be constantly reinforced across all your advertising partners. Done well, however, not only are your marketing dollars better spent, but the company will enjoy all the HR efficiencies of a company whose employees know what the company stands for and why.

The web is too pervasive for brands to imagine that they can only speak to one audience alone. Any campaign that is intended for men but demeans women will find its way to the wrong audience. Instead brands should be their own compass and elevate their audiences in their marketing. That doesn’t mean you can’t be funny or irreverent. Just don’t treat people like the products you’re trying to sell. Otherwise you’ll soon be spending all your marketing dollars  to win them back.

Do you think Coca-Cola made a mistake? Or do you believe the audience should drive the brand’s messaging?