By Ziad Abou Rjeily, creative and technology director, Bold Agency, Riyadh
We’re truly living in an exceptional time. The coronavirus, a simple and mindless organism, has managed to bring humanity to its knees. This virus didn’t just reveal how vulnerable we are as humans, but also it exposed the harsh reality of the marketing industry.
COVID-19 disrupted everything. Old plans were shelved, and new ones were improvised. For a moment, all attributes used to segregate societies into target groups (income levels, nationalities, races, genders, and lifestyles…) suddenly vanished, as everyone became virtually the same person. No matter who you are, you’re staying home, worried for your loved ones, and uncertain about tomorrow.
While this was happening, you’d expect from brands to roll up their sleeves and claim their roles, leveraging this situation to find ways to achieve their purpose; at the end of the day, they’re part of the society, right?
Sadly for most brands, this rare opportunity was missed.
The reason is simple; Quick-win culture has dominated our industry at the expense of long-term investment in brand building. A trend* fueled by the growth of the fast-pace digital marketing over the last decade.
When met with this sudden change, many brands were quick to ask the question they’re used to…
How can we be part of this?
The answer came with waves of trends that so many brands mindlessly followed.
Logo manipulations… Check.
Empty cities with inspirational messages. Check.
Everything will be okay, and we’ll meet again. Check.
This staggering redundancy rendered content coming from brands to become indistinguishable, losing meaning and impact every time it’s repeated.
But amidst this huge storm, there were brands that opted for a completely different approach. Instead of looking outwards to follow and predict social media trends, they shifted their perspective inwards to find meaning in what they do and they asked themselves a different question…
how can we help?
This question is so powerful as it does not just recognize the current situation, but also it puts the focus on the role that they can play.
Brands who asked this question ended up in a completely different zone. Sure, they were differentiated but more importantly, they gained new respect from society.
Like the magazine that decided to remove ads (their sole source of income) and replace them with stories of heroes on the front-lines;
or the rent-a-car company who decided to allow the unemployed youth to utilize their fleet so they can fill the demand surge for home delivery, or the tech company who decided to give their products for free to enable governments and the private sector to remain functional during the lockdown.
These are some example of stories people loved and shared.
This pandemic, and despite all the damage and horror it caused for society, offered a golden opportunity for brands to establish stronger bonds with their audience and increase their share-of-heart. The ones who managed to do so were the ones who acted with authenticity, meaning and purpose and remained true to their core brand values, proving that long-term strategies trumps any tactical or shot-term stunt.
I am not Nostradamus, nor do I have a crystal ball, but you don’t need that to know that every recession brings corrections, changes, and disruption. I hope this will be a wake-up call for brands to start reversing the trend and favor again long-term equity building that is centered around purpose, empathy, and role.
*IPA databank, the number of short-term case studies awarded grew from below 5% on 2010 to more than 45% on 2018.