Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Appealing to independence or interdependence

A concept in psychology that is often borrowed in marketing is the dichotomy of the independent and interdependent selves. Campaigns that appeal to independence highlight how a value being promoted can help make individuals feel unique, while those that pander to interdependence focus on membership in a community.

The ‘Army of One’ recruitment campaign of the U.S. Army, which underlined the individual benefits of becoming a soldier, is a classic example of an appeal to the independent self. ‘Even though there are 1,045,690 soldiers just like me, I am my own force,’ said a soldier in the ad. It contrasted with traditional marketing slogans the U.S. Army used, such as ‘Join the People Who've Joined the Army’ in the 1970s, which took a more interdependent approach.

A more recent attempt to target both interdependent and independent selves can be seen in the slogans used by U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The interdependent-targeted ‘Stronger Together’ appears in almost all her campaign materials and is even sprawled on her campaign jet. On social media, the slogan ‘I’m With Her’ is used more prominently and repeatedly, banking on the inclination to refer to oneself when posting online.

It may be argued, however, that although ‘I’m With Her’ asserts a choice, and thus appeals to the independent self, it also points outward rather than inward. Clinton becomes the central figure whenever the slogan is used. It appears that a more effective slogan with an independent slant is one that has been coined not by the Clinton campaign but by her rival, Republican candidate Donald Trump, during their third and final debate on October 20.

‘Such a nasty woman,’ Trump said as he interrupted Clinton’s answer to a question on her policy on Social Security and Medicare funds. He was responding to a jibe Clinton made: ‘...we need to put more money into the Social Security Trust Fund. That’s part of my commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy. My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald’s, assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it…’

Within hours, thousands and thousands of women in the U.S. and all over the world have used the hashtag #nastywoman. The taunt-turned-slogan seems to drive home the gender narrative that the Clinton campaign has been developing. Clinton has called Trump out for sexism in the first two debates, and her team has been amplifying this messaging on social media. All they needed was a slogan that sticks.

It is interesting to note that research suggests a relationship between the independent-interdependent clash and gender inequality, at least in the workplace. Stanford psychology professor, Hazel Rose Markus, claims that career success is often linked to qualities of independence. This benefits men, who are socially expected to be independent.

Women, on the other hand, tend to be punished for seeking independence. ‘For example, a woman may be judged “aggressive” or “cold” if she acts independently. A man acting in a similar fashion is unlikely to face the same reaction, because he is valued for his independence,’ a Stanford University blog on gender noted, citing Markus.

Following this logic, it may be argued that when Trump called Clinton a nasty woman, what he did was put out in the open the social penalty women otherwise hoped to avoid. Women took this as an opportunity to proudly display their independence: Instead of cringing at the taunt, they owned it. Clinton has Trump to thank for a marketing strategy for independent women.

Kim Patria
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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