Marketers have many reasons for getting into advertising. Maybe it’s a fascination with brands or love for creativity. For me, it’s my passion for diving into culture and understanding what motivates people. It doesn’t hurt that my job as a Strategist is incredibly variable and fun. On any given day I could be interviewing men about their relationship with their beards or researching snack food super fans. Even when I worked in the more serious pharmaceutical space, I enjoyed tracking patients' journeys and uncovering their concerns when it came to their health.
But in the past few months much of the joy that came with my role had been replaced with worry as my coworkers and I grappled with the heavy impact of a global pandemic and sweeping social justice movements. The COVID outbreak in the US, murder of George Floyd, and call for brands to boycott Facebook advertising in protest of the platform’s unjust practices seemed to come in quick succession. Many brands had been (rightly) spotlighted for being disingenuous or not contributing at all to the dialogue, and we were thrust into the high-wire act of guiding our clients towards the right decision (if there was even a “right” decision to make).
“I did not sign up for this”
This was one of my first thoughts and the thought of several of my coworkers who until this point in their careers had never grappled with anything more serious than a customer complaint. I recognize that this comes from a place of extreme privilege - not only am I in an industry that to me had felt removed from these topics, but I myself had never chosen to actively investigate them as a marketer. After sorting through the flurry of questions and news headlines and finally face to face with these issues, I realized that the work required for “this” was not a far cry from the careful research and planning we’ve always done for our clients. It’s with this realization that we were able to come together and create a plan.
Where do we go from here? Go back to basics
Understanding that no two brands are alike, AMP created a framework for approaching crises that could be adapted to each of our clients’ needs and values. After quickly pulling any creative that would contradict the tone of the moment (ex: a social post that encouraged consumers to meet up with friends), we leveraged steps and tools that had served us well in the past when faced with a difficult brand problem.
Take a beat
With marketing moving as quickly as it does, it’s natural to want to respond as quickly as possible to an event. The problem with this is that you may not have all the proper information to react appropriately, or understand whether or not it’s necessary to react at all. Much like reviewing a client brief to confirm what they’re asking of the team, taking a minute to assess the issue at hand and the impulse to get involved helped us understand the most logical way forward.
Know your brand
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, several brands were called out for quickly responding, despite the fact that their company and product had no connection to social justice and never been vocal about these issues in the past. This dissonance made communications feel disingenuous to consumers. While the messages may have been lighter in the past, the goal of feeling genuine in our communication has always been a high priority. When building a strategy for a campaign or analyzing competitors, we start with our own brand to make sense of their values and where they stand in the category. We looked inward at our own brands to review their values and past history. Once we had a firm grasp of our brands’ histories, voices, and perceptions, it became easy to know how they would react in any given situation.
Listen to your consumers
Henry Ford once (supposedly) said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This quote is often used in marketing contexts to demonstrate how consumers don't always know the proper solutions for their problems. While this line of thinking often works for communications for laundry detergent or snacks, it should be thrown out the window when it comes to high-stakes situations. A deep understanding of consumers’ needs and motivations is key for any product, but addressing those needs directly was essential in this moment. During the early stages of the COVID outbreak, our grocery clients became essential businesses overnight, with consumers urgently needing information about product availability and store hours. We helped our clients pivot their social channels to provide consumers with the exact information they needed in an otherwise confusing time.
Observe the cultural climate
Once we took a minute to assess the situation, looked inward at our own brands, and outward at our consumers, it was time to take a step back and look at the given category and culture at large to give context to our work. While we didn’t want to copy our competitors, it was important to understand who was contributing to the conversation and how they were sharing. Category and cultural research is a standard part of the job, but instead of gathering creative examples and trending memes, we were gathering public statements and news alerts. These pieces of information were added to personalized live dashboards that clients could monitor.
While I most certainly didn’t sign up for the high-stakes events of the past few months (and the inevitable events come November), I take comfort in the familiar and foundational tools I gained in the “before times”, finding ways to adapt and make sense of the (supposed) chaos. This new normal may not be as light, but I’ve been able to find satisfaction in diving into research, solving problems, and finding a way forward.