Undoubtedly, you’ve heard a lot in recent months about “fake news.” The concept like many political issues, has been framed within the reference of viewers’ perspectives. At one extreme, there is the story of the North Carolina man who decided to become an “action journalist” by bringing a weapon to a Washington DC pizza restaurant, because he believed the story spreading like wildfire on the alt-right social media that this was where Hillary Clinton’s organization was operating a child abduction/abuse ring.
On the other side, we see Donald Trump expressing anger that mainstream media are spreading “fake news” when they fail to agree with his viewpoints. And even if you don’t like he says/tweets, he IS the US president, so his words have some implicit credibility.
Putting politics aside, there is the story about the brother and sister twins in Mississippi who purportedly married not knowing they were related, but only discovered the problem when they tried to have kids and went to a fertility clinic and then were tested for DNA. (The story suggested they were adopted separately and didn’t meet until college — and they didn’t question the irregularity that they both had the same birth date. Several mainstream media picked up and rebroadcast the story, until someone checked and discovered the original website was, well, a “fake news” site.
Some mainstream media have researched the fake news topic and traced quite a bit of the phoney news to a network of advertising-supported websites where the owners, realizing that certain narratives would catch attention and traffic, and be rebroadcast on social media, would generate significant online advertising revenue. And of course there are sinister arguments that Russian propagandists have been operating behind the scenes to generate the “fake news” to mess up the US election.
These points aside, how are they relevant to architectural, engineering and construction marketing?
First, clearly if you market or communicate from the ideological perspective of your intended audience, you’ll likely be much more successful than if you fight against it. Second, if you determine to take on controversial issues in your marketing strategies, you are playing with a two-edged sword. Strategically, you could orient your message to your ideal clients — and then it doesn’t matter if you push the other side away. However, if you go too far (and that may be the level you need to achieve effectiveness) you’ll get push back and potential organized boycotts and attacks. (These can fail, as we know Ivanka Trump is enjoying a sales boom despite the consumer boycotts organized by the ‘other side’.)
Generally, I’d advise you stay in the middle, leaning to the side where your clients focus, with respect for your own values and beliefs and those of your employees. However, it can make sense at times to take a more risky stance. The results may be impressively positive or your might dig yourself into bankruptcy. However, I think any risk you take should be founded on underlying truth (and verified especially if it is off the edge of probability.)
Successful branding, after all is based on trust, and it seems inconceivable you could earn genuine trust by engaging in fake news or misleading assertions.