Advertising in a Crisis: How to Avoid Tone-Deaf Marketing

To say this is a tricky time to be running an advertising campaign would be a massive understatement. Brands are no longer simply regarding their audiences as a number of segmented demographics. Everyone looking at an ad is going through something incredibly difficult right now, and your campaigns need to cater to their unique needs.

Taking this into consideration, even the most innocent messaging or creative runs the risk of being interpreted as completely inappropriate thanks to this new global crisis.

Performance and ROI aside, the aim of your messaging right now is as simple as this: Be likeable. In other words, don’t cause offence.

This doesn’t just apply to any new creative, but any campaigns you have running. What was inoffensive and harmless a month ago could very well cause a massive controversy today. Just look at this Hershey’s campaign that features a previously harmless act: hugging. Feeling uncomfortable yet?

“Your brand will be remembered tomorrow for how it responds today.”

Before you conduct an audit on your current and future campaigns (and you should), first familiarise yourself with these simple but essential guidelines on advertising in a crisis.

Assess the Competition

This isn’t a recommendation to copy your competitors’ COVID-19 messaging. But we are recommending that you’re at least putting in the same effort as them.

Your brand will be remembered tomorrow for how it responds today. That’s a philosophical way of saying people are expecting your brand to show up and “be here” for them, whatever that looks like. You have to do something.

At the end of the day, people are choosing to align themselves with brands that have strong values more than they ever have before.

Watch Your Words

While you can (and should) acknowledge the current situation, you want to make sure it doesn’t seem like you’re celebrating it or trying to put a positive spin on it.

Let’s say your business sells videogames and you want to run a campaign that targets people who are spending more time at home and thus have more time to play games. Now let’s go over two very different approaches to the messaging:

  • Option 1: An ad promoting games with an online co-op feature to help people spend time with friends, despite not being able to physically hang out.
  • Option 2: An ad that suggests that since people have lost their jobs, there’s never been a better time for all-day gaming sessions.

Can you see which option is totally insensitive? Hopefully, you picked the second option.

“Humour in advertising is great. Except when there’s a crisis.”

It’s also important to exercise caution around certain phrases that are frequently used in advertising. While creating a sense of urgency is usually a great way to compel the viewer to take action and buy, there are certain items that brands should definitely not be creating urgency around.

Mosaic Brands, the parent company of major Australian brands such as Rivers, Katies and Crossroads, have come under fire after suggesting consumers were running out of time to stock up on their new health and safety products — such as face masks and hand sanitiser — due to limited product numbers. They’ve been accused of exploiting people’s fears during a time when they’re most vulnerable, encouraging panic buying. That’s a move consumers aren’t going to forget anytime soon.

If in Doubt, Don’t Joke

Humour in advertising is great. Except when there’s a crisis. Especially when there’s a crisis that’s causing people to lose their jobs and even lives.

It’s always been a little too easy to offend people on the internet. What might elicit a few laughs during your family Zoom hangouts is unlikely to go over well in your brand’s marketing campaigns.

Even a lighthearted reference to high-fiving or a certain beer brand will likely result in at least one person (if you’re lucky) calling you out on the internet. You know, that place where nothing can ever be truly erased?

Here’s a handy exercise to avoid committing a major faux pas: rather than trying to think of the potential social media response to a campaign’s messaging, put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s been affected by the crisis to a devastating degree. How would they feel about this message? Because right now, their opinion is the one that matters most.

We’ll be sharing more marketing tips and insights around the current situation, as well as offering some much-needed reprieve across both our blog and social media. Stay posted for more wisdom/distraction, and don’t hesitate to reach out to our expert team for help with your advertising during this challenging time.

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