Pushing Past “Here for You” Pandemic Messaging

| By JG Wolfe

Getting your brand noticed is all about breaking through the clutter to arrive at messaging and positioning that is unique, memorable, and compelling. During the current pandemic, there are many brands – large and small – who have lost sight of this at a critical time. You may have noticed that so many ads look and sound remarkably the same right now. In fact, it’s difficult to tell them apart. If you’re not quite sure what I’m referring to, all you need to do is check out this video mashup, care of YouTube’s Microsoft Sam.

Let me first say that calling attention to this is in no way intended to belittle the brands that have put forth the energy to develop crisis-specific advertising and relief efforts during this highly stressful time. That’s a feat in and of itself given just the production limitations they are facing. And I’m willing to accept that these ads have been created with the very best intentions. But the approach can backfire in two ways when so much of it sounds like the same ad with a different logo at the end.

First, it can end up doing the complete opposite of what it was intended to do, breeding skepticism instead of inspiring confidence. Simply turn to social media channels if you need proof. There’s no shortage of comments challenging the notion that we are actually “all in this together” when in reality it’s not exactly a level playing field out there. A car brand that says it is “here for you” by telling you the ways it’s making it easier to buy one of their vehicles is, essentially, still trying to sell you a vehicle.

Second, it begs the question as to what exactly the brand is doing to help customers get through this and reach a better day. Simply saying that you care isn’t good enough right now, especially when that’s the same message coming from all sides. You have to show how you care. If this isn’t explicitly addressed, the message risks falling on deaf ears. Or worse, it comes off as insincere and patronizing.

Brands that are wise to all of this are winning – not by ignoring the reality of the pandemic situation, but by acknowledging it in novel ways that resonate with their target audience and deepen their connection. Here are two of my favorites:

Early on, Jeep commanded the #stayofftheroad hashtag (not what you’d expect to hear from an auto manufacturer) and has really been working it. Video ads for social platforms feature a Groundhog Day encore – complete with Bill Murray [Jeep has suddenly pulled those from YouTube but you can view the original from the big game here]. And their print ads showcasing the iconic Jeep grill include minimalist visuals and phrases encouraging exploring the great indoors. A brilliant approach because it ignores sales and focuses on appropriate messaging – but in a non-somber tone people expect from the brand. Now, they’ve since aired spots with the rest of Fiat Chrysler’s “should you need a car…” messaging. But the approach is still more sincere than others in that respect.

Nike has paid homage to a devoted following by highlighting amateur and pro athletes as they “play for the world” by continuing to train at home. You can view a spot here. The homemade, grainy stills and footage reinforce a “you can’t stop us” concept that ties viewers together even while they are distanced. Nike has also put its money where its mouth is by unlocking the premium features of the highly popular Nike Training Club app and offering those for free.   

So, what can we learn from this? As you continue to reconnect with those who are critical to the success of your business, take cues from these examples and think more than ever about ways you can avoid blending in. Address real feelings and concerns, on a personal level. Don’t follow someone else’s script. Let your brand personality shine through. And think carefully about if and when to sell.

It doesn’t hurt to have a marketing and communications professional in your corner to make this happen. Contact the Reuben Rink team and let’s talk about helping your business stand out in a crowded environment.


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