JEREMY MAGGS: Empathy advertising for a woke world that no longer feels safe
The pandemic has changed advertising and the need to get the tone right is more important than ever
Before the world got sick, advertising and brand-building was much less complicated. Twelve months ago, a clear strategic understanding of a brand’s purpose would have, or at least should have, led to a good, creative, measurable marketing idea. One that would be given the appropriate copy and art treatment. A good media buy would close the loop, and everyone would wait for the cash registers to start ringing.
While tone is always important in advertising there was more latitude to take risk. Brands could be a little more irreverent or even aggressive with the assumption that consumers were more mentally robust than they are now. The pandemic irrevocably changed that tried-and-tested method forever.
More time at home meant consumers were forced to change their purchasing behaviour and, more importantly, think deeply and critically about brands and the way they were treating us. Did they understand the enormity of the situation? Were they trying to help in any way? That help could come in the form of good advice on how to stay alive. They could understand the deep, painful strain on our pockets and offer discounts or coupons. Or they could craft simple messages saying, “We’re with you, we get you and we’ve got you.”
A few years ago there was a trend in advertising nominally called “advertising for good”, whereby brands would lend their names and heft to worthy causes. It was largely driven by Millennials that wear their heart on their sleeves. While many found this “wokeness” annoying, this demographic’s powerful influence and spending power meant brands had no choice but to develop a voice and articulate a clear position. Sure it was risky, but no more than being called out and named and shamed.
Now, in a similar vein during the pandemic, brands with a clear understanding of the changing market paradigm, and all the emotions that go with it, have had to become more empathetic in their messaging. Those that have got it right have won huge consumer respect and enduring loyalty.
Empathy advertising is the next big trend on the ever-evolving marketing dashboard. But before brand stewards jump in, remember it must come from deep within the organisation’s heart, it must have full buy-in from the C-suite downwards, and what the brand says it is doing has to be done authentically without looking for a quid pro quo or back pats and kudos.
Some brands are getting it exactly right. A case in point is Irish whiskey brand Jameson and a simple campaign called #MixDontMingle. Three well-produced billboards reinforce the message of mask-wearing. That is threaded through to a responsible and mature influencer campaign where beleaguered restaurant owners are sensitively interviewed about their experience of lockdowns and how they have survived.
The third component is a series of online competitions in which winners are given an opportunity to dine at some of these establishments with the bill footed by the brand.
This is all done subtly and shows a kind and altruistic side to the brand; those that follow this strategy should ultimately reap the benefits.
• Maggs has been writing and commentating on the advertising industry for almost 30 years.
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