Don’t make it about yourself – by Austyn Allison

Austyn Allison

When Queen Elizabeth died at the start of September, we decided not to put anything on our website or social media channels. Regardless of our feelings about Her Majesty, we didn’t feel an acknowledgement would be relevant to Campaign Middle East.

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Other bands felt differently, and it has been both interesting and at times amusing to see how firms of all shapes and sizes marked the occasion. I found one Instagram account that collated these. Among the brands featured were Hooters restaurant (“She was a shining inspiration to girls and women for decades”), the British Kebab Awards (“For 70 years, she stewarded us through our darkest and brightest days”) and the Horsforth Hotel in Leeds (“With the extremely sad news of the Queen passing away we have taken the decision to cancel Karaoke this evening in respect”).

While I couldn’t help smiling at some of the brands that seemed to be posting about the Queen just for the sake of posting, I can see why they did it. The monarch’s death was a huge historical event, and an occasion that many wanted to mark, but the question was how to do so and stay relevant. I’d suggest that the usual rule of grief applies: Say kind things if you want, but don’t make it about yourself. People might smirk, but you won’t offend.

Say something kind and don’t make it all about yourself is good advice in general, actually. It’s not far off what Ciaran Bonass from Virtue says on page 40. Brands shouldn’t keep interrupting but should come at culture ‘from the inside’.

The refrain is echoed in some of the Power Essays, which start on page 41. Our annual collection of insights from the industry’s high and mighty look as much as humanity and purpose as they do at technology. This means the people leading the industry into the future are thinking about how technology will carry us forward, but they are just as concerned with the effects that momentum will have on their staff, clients and consumers.

The other big topic of this issue is our annual Production House Guide. Make sure you keep it somewhere safe, as those guys can create anything from a six-second pre-roll to a full feature film. Check out our Industry Forum where we asked if tech is making us less reliant on production houses. While no one denies that every smartphone is a studio in your pocket, the overall take-away is that production houses’ roles are changing but their relevance is in no way diminishing.

There’s another article I’d really like you to read. On page 20, Nishkka Manglani begins her discussion of inclusivity by saying her 11-year-old son, who uses a wheelchair, asked why he doesn’t see people like himself in advertising. It’s a good question for him to ask, and one that the industry should strive to answer.

Some brands are anxious about including people with disabilities in their marketing. What if they get it wrong? What if there is a backlash? Manglani suggests working with the community, and checking back with them for sensitivity issues.

Brands won’t always get it right, and sometimes people will laugh at their efforts. On page 12, Heriot-Watt’s Paul Hopkinson talks about companies struggling with their sustainability messaging, which can be prone to familiar accusations of insensitivity, hypocrisy and more. But I suspect Manglani would second his advice to be consistent and transparent.

I would add another caveat: Although the public may laugh when brands get it wrong, they are generally able to forgive well-meaning faux pas if the marketers haven’t made it all about themselves.