Recently you may have noticed that, while watching TV, all of the commercials you’ve been seeing have seemed eerily similar, despite being for different products and services. Almost every brand imaginable has created ads addressing the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. From Budweiser to U-Haul, every corporation out there is jostling for the chance to tell you that they are here for you, and that we are all in this together.
We have previously addressed cause-based marketing in the age of coronavirus, so let’s shift gears and focus on the psychological aspects of these ads—we are, after all, a psycho-sensory brand-building agency. Beyond the somewhat eye roll-worthy messaging (thank you for your support during this difficult time, Samsung), psycho-sensory principles are on full display in many of these spots. And ironically, several of them are in conflict with each other. Humans being the complex creatures that we are, we all react differently to the same stimuli. Two people may view an ad and be split on whether they like it or hate it, and in both cases psycho-sensory principles are at play. Let’s examine one instance of this psychological yin and yang:
Exposure Effect: This simply states that the more we are exposed to an image, sound, or in this case, message, the more comfortable we become with it. The more comfortable we become with a message, the more credibility it gains in our minds. The constant repetition of “we are all in this together” may seem maudlin coming from Penske Truck Rental, but the more we hear it the more we start to believe it. And all things considered, believing that we are all united right now isn’t such a bad thing.
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Bandwagon Effect: This one seems pretty obvious, and in some cases could be considered the opposite side of the coin to the Exposure Effect. While hearing something repeatedly might make it gain credibility for some, for others it can have the effect of lessening its credibility because you feel that brands are only sharing this message since others are doing it. When everyone does it, it comes across as canned and reactive. Honestly, why does Mazda need to chime in on the state of our society today?
So, as marketers, how do you make sure your message comes across as soothing and supportive rather than “too much” or “me too”? Here are a few guidelines you can keep in mind during that ad brainstorming session:
1. Does your brand inherently have anything to do with the crisis at hand…in today’s case, coronavirus? Are you manufacturing PPE and ventilators, or are you stretching to make the connection between frozen pizza and community strength? If you can draw a direct line between your product/service and people’s current wants and needs, you are probably safe to proceed.
2. Are you doing/contributing something unique to improve the situation? For example, are you donating food to front line health workers or redirecting your business efforts (e.g., manufacturing) to support society in other relevant ways right now? If so, you should communicate it, but in a non-promotional, non-self-congratulatory way.
3. If your product or service does not directly relate to the current crisis, is your message still useful? It’s possible to contribute to the conversation even if you can’t contribute goods and services, for example by using your communications channels and brand followers to help spread important and helpful information and reinforce appropriate behaviors (e.g., social distancing). But, be aware, you are walking a fine line. If consumers feel you are inserting yourself into the conversation for no substantive reason, they may consider you a bandwagoner with an ulterior motive.
We all know that many brands are struggling and seeking new ways to stay relevant in a world that turned upside-down, seemingly overnight. Consumers nowadays expect genuine connection more than ever, even with the brands with whom they interact. In such a fraught time, participation for participation’s sake can easily backfire. The key to avoiding fatigue, or worse, cancellation, is to find a meaningful way to contribute to the conversation.
Communicate and behave like a brand that also cares about people and society. Be authentic.