The end of the middle ground?

I did jury duty recently. If you ever want to step outside your bubble and spend some time with a genuinely random selection of the UK populace I couldn’t recommend it more.

One juror would arrive every morning and slap her copy of the Daily Mail on the table with a resounding thud. It reminded me what an act of allegiance that now is to a particular, and very fixed set of values – anti immigration, anti human rights, anti foreign aid, pro Brexit. A hard position that’s led to the Mail being the focus of popular campaigns like Stop Funding Hate.

But it wasn’t always like that. When I was growing up, the Mail was the voice of ‘middle England’ – gentle, small ‘c’ conservatism. Normality. The mainstream. The centre.

The problem is that the centre doesn’t exist anymore. Your choice is Leave or Remain. Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn. Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. The Guardian or the Mail.

And that’s a problem for brands that want to be mainstream. Charity brands like CRUK and Save the Children have long sought ITV-Saturday night mass popularity. Except now they’re being asked to have opinions on the diverse depiction of cancer patients, immigrants in the NHS, and refugees from Syria.

There is no middle ground.

In the US, Nandos have come out clearly against Trump, with their #EveryoneWelcome inauguration day campaign. New Balance fans started burning their trainers in protest at a single statement. The CEO of Pepsi has made a clear pronouncement of their stance. Neutral brands like Twitter have become toxic thanks to their unwanted association with Donald Trump and legions of right-wing trolls.

There is no middle ground.

Where does this leave the majority of UK brands, who’d rather avoid all this nastiness? Feeling rather uncomfortable I imagine. The Marketing Director of Diageo recently defended some edgy, political campaigns claiming neutrality and a simple ‘rum is fun’ purpose – a neutrality few people would buy.

There is no middle ground.

So now, if you’re a marketer or brand owner, the danger is that you’re going to be asked to take a stance – by your board, by your consumers, or simply by events. And conversely, that also represents an opportunity – to take one in advance.

Of course, you could do nothing. Because there’s still middle ground.

But not for long.