Marketing When Marketing Should be the Last Thing on Your Mind

We have had a rough time of it lately.

Hurricanes.  Riots.  Earthquakes.  Mass shootings.  Hardly a day goes by when a horrific event dominates the day’s news.

Times like these are the last times anyone should worry about marketing.  And that’s the point I’m going to make.

Outside the affected area, marketers still have jobs to do.  Would that we could back away from our laptops, don jumpsuits and go help the people who really need our help.  Outside of volunteer first aid squad members, National Guard personnel and the Cajun Navy, however, that means most of us still have to show up at the office.

Yet, as an ancient Rabbi told generations: “it is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

I think this statement has implications for marketers.

A large-scale disaster that takes the lives of dozens or destroys a community cannot simply breeze by the rest of the nation–or perhaps the world–like the closing Dow Jones Index.  Things aren’t normal and don’t proceed like business as usual.  Even when seeking escape by watching TV or browsing our social networks for cat pictures, these events lay heavily on our minds.  Marketers can’t ignore a pall like this.  Who can think about which brand of peanut butter to buy when watching people begging for food?

That said, marketers who choose to respond to disasters face criticism of taking advantage of people at a vulnerable moment.  I won’t name names here out of respect for past tragedies, but some marketers have gone so far as to attach a sales pitch to a solemn or even grim occasion.

Let’s look at one who did it right: Verizon (disclosure: I’ve worked on various parts of Verizon in that past and I’m currently working with one of their competitors).

 

By highlighting the efforts of first responders–and moreover by not including any sort of sales pitch–Verizon shows both that they can appreciate the stress many of us feel and also that they’re doing something about it.

It took a lot of effort by Verizon to script and edit a commercial in what must have been days.  More to the point, it took some leadership from somewhere in the organization to handle the situation with care and compassion.

I would like to see more marketers do the same, to show that they have the humanity to acknowledge the suffering of others and, where possible, to address their role in salving the wounds.

More brands could do this if they thought about it.  Procter & Gamble dispatches mobile laundries and wifi service trucks to hard-hit areas.  What could a bank do to make emergency cash available?  How could a clothing retailer help those who have lost their homes and all the clothes inside?

I suppose I could also make the more bottom-line-oriented argument here.  I could show how programs like these have positive impacts on brand image.  However, I’ll leave that job to others.  For now, I’d just like to see more marketers think about how they can address audiences collectively waiting for the next big shoe to drop.

 

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