Our great grandchildren may look back on the global “corona crash” as the start of a greater consciousness for many “good” reasons. As an awakening, it’s a reminder of the importance of having a voice while remembering our place, be that as people or brands. 

Since the March switch-off of economies most of us have reeled out and in repeatedly — whether from our place as mortals following a “sci-non-fi” storyline or from our space as business and brand custodians, getting to non-grips with a cliffhanger script. 

As silence hushed our boisterous marketing and media world of consumerism, the whisper of an unspoken question was heard behind emergency budget-cut chatter. It asked simply: more or less, how sensitive should brands be in the battle of their life? 

Very, signalled the truth. 

People are not alone in facing a new test as the pandemic has turned its positive or negative verdict to the relevance of brands and their motives ... not their strategies but their raison d’être —their purpose, and possibly their potential, to contribute hope in a clinical and fearful context. 

Yet the highly sensitised setting in which we now communicate should not have meant that brands completely lost their voice. It does however ask that we work with better brand sensitivity and ensure that this is the first filter for content and creative.

One of the brand sensitive voices of hope through the uncertainty was Wits University. The nearly 100-year SA university took brand sensitivity to heart and in partnership with Radio 702, hosted conversations that spoke out strongly for hope. 

In the Wits Impacts for Good podcast series, various professors and postgraduate researchers share their research stories that seek to bring solutions to life.

Podcast conversations include research done by professor Musa Manzi, whose groundbreaking mathematical algorithm has the potential to save the lives of mineworkers in the darkest depths of SA’s deepest mines. His life story, in particular, is one of unparalleled inspiration. 

The Radio 702 talk team chatted with Wits PhD student Michael Lucas, whose breakthrough academic research could stop nosocomial infections in hospitals before they start. Also in the series to date, professor Shabir Madhi shares more about pioneering the vaccine to prevent stillbirths among pregnant women in impoverished communities. 

Professor Helen Rees highlights important work to help women through health care. She led the SA division of the Solidarity Trial that forms part of the international drug trial launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to accelerate the search for an effective vaccine for Covid-19 patients in hospital.

When listening to the podcasts it becomes clear that there are heroes who wear lab coats, whose motivation is to do good. Perhaps that truth is the starting point from which we need to consider brand sensitivity: purely to do good. 

Covid-19 is a trigger of hard change and the first of a series of novel tests of brands and how able they are in the art of sensitive conversation. In our old norm of “talk first, talk loudest” it has triggered a pivotal pause to question: When do we listen and when do we speak? Why is it relevant to say what we plan on saying? What do traditional manners say is the respectful way to engage? 

Consumers will continue to matter in brand work, but the loud silence of lockdown has told us that people are tired of hearing brand shoutouts while everyone tries not to fall off the cliffhanger. This does not mean that the age of brands is over but calls for purposeful sensitivity. 

Because when we listen twice and speak once, and when our brand purpose is in the right place for the right reasons, our contribution is rightly amplified. When there is less push and more pull, less noise and more conversation, more voices will be heard.

About the author: Gail Pearman is one of the “new normal” creative directors with her head and heart in bringing concepts, content and art direction together. Her story includes another life in PR which was followed by her new lifetime in content and advertising. 

This article was paid for Ebony+Ivory.

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