When the world grieves, marketers tend to respond in one of two ways:
- By saying nothing
- By saying too much
Both are a problem.
It’s in the DNA of marketing to piggyback off the most talked about events. We’ve seen Pepsi try to glamorize social protests with an ad by Kendall Jenner and Dove take real beauty to new lengths by unveiling bottles representing the various sizes of women’s bodies.
Grief is part of life and so you’d think that marketers would by now have figured out how to respond or at least how not to. But this past week, in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s passing, we’ve seen fitness chain Crossfit share a workout themed“ Queen Elizabeth II,” a combination of jumping lunges and muscle ups, broken up with a “1 min rest in silence.” and bakery chain Greggs in a rather odd marketing move, comb the web for a picture of the Queen that’s most in rhythm with the brand’s colors.
While it’s easy to blame these gaffes on often overworked and underpaid social media handlers, the reality is that despite years of practice, brands continue to fail at moments of heightened national sensitivity from natural disasters to terror attacks, to the aftermath of social protests and global pandemics.
And while I’d like to say that silence is often a perfectly acceptable response, it can be unbecoming particularly for businesses with large scale commercial operations to choose silence while the people they exist to serve suffer.
So, here are 4 things that brands can actually do:
- Say something meaningful: Saying something doesn’t mean saying anything. The last thing you want is to be perceived as exploitative in the framing of your messaging so take some time to properly craft your communication in a way that doesn’t appear flippant, exploitative or like rubbing salt in an open wound. Being sensitive to the audience and thinking outside-in i.e “what do they need to hear?” versus inside-out (me, my company, my discount offer, my sales pitch).
- Provide Relief: Good brand custodians look at times of mourning as opportunities to build closer relationships with customers. They understand that the focus should be on building the goodwill of their brand and strengthening the public trust. Smart companies will take the longer view and sacrifice sales and profits in the short run to build goodwill and trust in the longer run. This could take the form of freebies to a particularly affected segment of society, mental health support or even time limited free access to services for local communities. Why are they smart? Because in times of great need, people have exceptionally good memories. They remember those that help them, and they never forget those that try to take advantage of them.
- Be sensitive: Planning a big product release, company function or sponsorship? You might want to consider either pushing back to allow some time, or at least toning down the merriment and not doing a whole public song and dance.
- Take Internal measures: The best organizations are mindful that their internal teams are in fact their number one customers and potentially biggest advocates. So, one solid way to respond in a season of mourning is to take steps internally to support your employees through periods of uncertainty. This could come in the form of internally acknowledging the situation, offering more flexible work and offering material or psychological support to internal teams. For businesses who happen to be social platforms like TikTok and Facebook, one other way to think about taking internal steps would be to create systems that prohibit the publishing of content pieces that are offensive, divisive, or that deliberately misinform on their platforms.