Have you noticed the new tone in some television advertising?
Solemn voiceovers promising “Better days are ahead” and “By working together we’ll make it through.” Uplifting visuals and fluttering American flags. Hashtags like #staysafe and #stayhome.
Credit the coronavirus pandemic. From automakers to cellphone providers to fast-food chains, companies are putting their brands front and center without necessarily hawking products.
Or, as a Ford Motor Co. executive told the trade publication Ad Age, the company recognized that it’s more important to be “reassuring right now” rather than pushing a particular vehicle model. So Ford’s ads note its credit arm can work with customers hurt financially by fallout from the pandemic.
Even “Captain Obvious,” the red-uniformed mascot for lodgings website Hotels.com, isn’t encouraging travel these days but social distancing. A spokeswoman told the travel news website Skift that the company’s usual advertising seemed out of place “for the current environment.” Instead, the subbed spot “reinforces the guidance to stay home.”
Not appearing tone-deaf to the pandemic were among the kernels of advice offered last week in a webinar organized by the New York Capital Region chapter of the American Marketing Association, a local professional group, and Urban Co-Works, a co-working space in Schenectady.
The topic put before the panel of marketers and public relations practitioners was “Crisis Communications in a Time of Coronavirus.”
“What makes a crisis so daunting is the loss of control,” Paul Larrabee, managing director of Corning Place Communications in Albany told listeners, describing a crisis as “a non-routine event that escalates so quickly and rapidly that you lose control.”
A crisis can offer a company the opportunity “to demonstrate competency and responsiveness… to [show it is] prepared for the unexpected,” he said.
But “it is not an opportunity to make a sale, or to be advertising, or to be anything other than a chance to communicate information to someone,” he added. “Anything other than that is probably mistimed at the moment.”
Jonathan Pierce, principal of Pierce Communications in Albany, said marketers working with companies should look at what already might be in the pipeline to raise brand awareness, “and maybe put a pause on some of that.”
Regular communications about sales and specials can fall “with a thud” right now, he said. And bringing attention to a social media post by describing it as “going viral” would be in bad taste.
When is the right time to resume everyday messaging? “It’s a judgment call,” Pierce said.
But in returning to the routine, he added, “Do it in a way that recognizes the realities,” that the “new normal” may be different.
Pierce said Price Chopper/Market 32, the Schenectady-based supermarket chain his firm advises, tipped its hat to that in a recent mailing about Easter meals, for instance, by conveying that “Today, more than ever, being with your family is important.”