In two blogs that I posted in March, I discussed the idea of marketing to tribes rather than individuals. The concept was based on the fact that the need to belong has been magnified by social media, which has increased both FOMO (fear of missing out) and a sense of loneliness.
I also discussed the role that personality type plays in the need to belong to a group. And the fact that many companies have already had success with this approach. You can check out those posts here if you missed them…
Last week Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee made public for the first time the full cache of more than 3,000 ads that Facebook Inc. said were purchased by a pro-Kremlin group, the Internet Research Agency. A discussion about why Facebook accepted political advertising from foreign powers, in possible violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, is best left for another time.
What I want to focus on today is how successfully the Russians used the technique of marketing to the tribe. This is a perfect example.
You don’t even need to read this ad, which was targeted to people in Allentown, Erie, and Scranton, PA., with the job title coal miner, to understand the message, since the visual says it all – Miners like you support Trump. (Seetharaman, 2018)
Not only will doing the same make them part of the tribe. But it also makes a difficult decision – who to vote for - easier by suggesting that everyone else is doing it. We call this “social proof.” And when people are uncertain about what to do, they often turn to others to tell them. It’s a short cut. A way to ease the fatigue that comes from making difficult decisions.
Even more ingenious is this ad targeted to African-Americans designed to suppress turnout by suggesting that Hilary is just as racist as Trump – despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Newly released census data shows the effect of this effort and others like it, with African-American turnout declining by 7.1% in 2016, to its lowest level since 2000 – 59.6%. (Frey, 2018)
There’s no doubt that marketing to the tribe can be a successful strategy. Here’s hoping that in the future it will be used for the greater good.
Seetharaman, D.; Wells, G.; Tau, B. (2018, May 10) Release of Thousands of Russia-Linked Facebook Ads Show How Propaganda Sharpened wsj.com. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from
Frey, W. (2018, May 15) Census shows pervasive decline in 2016 minority voter turnout. brookings.edu. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from