Amid a divisive political landscape, advertisers bet on unity

Johnsonville, Wisconsin — Jamie Schmelzer is not a mental health professional — he’s a marketing executive for meat processing giant Johnsonville. But the inflamed and antagonistic state of U.S. politics has led his company to shift gears somewhat in its message.

“We do not pretend that we have what it takes to save America,” Schmelzer told CBS News. “We know the world is full of serious problems that sausage can’t solve.”

The company’s new national ad campaign begs Americans to “turn down the temperature” to find common ground. 

“We believe that most people are mostly good, and they should be treated that way,” the narrator says in the new ad campaign. “And that means less trolling and more tailgating, less doomscrolling and more dinner parties.”

Schmelzer said the company’s view is that “this campaign is cultural more than political, but we also fully recognize that those two things have become kind of inseparable.”
Johnsonville had a hunch the country was on edge, so it took a stab at something politicians do: polling.  
It found that eight out of 10 Americans are exhausted by the anger and negativity in the U.S. It also found that many Americans are attending fewer gatherings than they used to. Isolation is not good for Johnsonville’s products, Schmelzer said.

“Johnsonville makes hangout food,” Schmelzer explains. “We like to say that sausage for one almost doesn’t exist.”

It’s not just Johnsonville preaching calm and togetherness. You can find similar echoes in ad campaigns from Miller Lite and La-Z-Boy — attempting to sell less fighting and more relaxation.

“They’re paying attention to our own thoughts as a society,” said Dr. Andrew Cohen, a cultural sociologist who specializes in advertising. “…It’s a great place for these brands to play in. Saying, you know, we can’t deny the reality that people are heated, that it’s really hard to go to your family’s cookout and get in a fight with your uncle over some political views that you don’t agree about.”

CBS News traveled to the battleground states of Georgia and Wisconsin to show voters the ads and ask how they view the country.
“Everyone in this country feels a little bit on edge,” said Kris Stubbs of Georgia.
Shermaine Williams of Cobb County, Georgia, told CBS News, “Everybody’s anxiety and emotions are high, and we just need to chill,”

Those feelings match Johnsonville’s research, as well as recent warnings from U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about the “epidemic of loneliness” and the toxicity of social media.

“People seem to isolate themselves too much,” said Debbie Reagles of Kenosha, Wisconsin. “Isolation, it’s a bad thing, you know?

Advertisers hope that bridge building and slowing down is a message that sells to an anxious nation in short supply of unity.

“It’s kind of a pep talk for America to remember to make time, take a break and have some fun with some people that you like,” Schmelzer said.

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