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The COV-Ad Pandemic, And How To Avoid It

The COVID-19 pandemic has offered brands a way to ingratiate themselves to us, and advertisers are being forced to change the way they are contributing to the world.

That’s not a bad thing, but as usual, many are tripping over themselves, or walking all over their audiences. They’re looking at short-term direct-action metrics and media-spend panic surveys and confusing value with contribution as measures. 

The miracle that marketing affords us is the ability to create an enduring, loyal connection to our brand.

The art of turning that connection into awe-inspiring loyalty-inducing love is becoming a lost art. Crisis often stimulates bad decisions, and while the art might be getting lost, we can make sure it won’t be forgotten.  

Since I’m stuck indoors and offering free movie recommendations, please accept my humble homage to Sergio Leone. 

The Good: Be there in the best way possible

A guy I know thought the CEO of Jersey Mike’s “CEO Ad” sounded genuine. So I spent half my day watching Jersey Mike’s spots. They are among the cleanest, most direct, non-self-gratifying marketing messages I have ever seen or heard about. 

Hats off. Seriously. I never just dole it out. Never. 

Peter Cancro delivers the point in a genuine way. He tells us why his company is there, what they are doing in the crisis and how they are helping be here for us. It’s as real as real gets.  Jersey Mike’s gets the very simple harsh reality that dead people make terrible customers. More than that, he’s offering a genuine message with a simple offering.

In any case, I fell in love and bought a bunch of sandwiches. And unlike Amazon Fresh, FreshDirect, Whole Foods, Costco and a few I’ve forgotten, the food actually arrived. 

The Bad: Sales couched on love

I love Rag and Bone. I love Rag and Bone despite the fact that any product photo featuring a model even close to my age is referred to as something akin to grandpa apparel. They skipped over “Dad” and went right to “Poppy.” How sad for me. 

Rag and Bone fell into the “CEO letter sale” trap. In summary, a heartfelt letter may have begun with good intentions, but lands on self-indulgent sales rhetoric. The formula is simple — say something sanctimonious, then plaster it all over the home page and drop it into ad campaigns everywhere. 

In retail, ad response rates spike proportionate to the discount number in the ads. That is, a 70% discount equals lots of clicks. The downside is that as the discount percentage increases, the margin decreases and that’s not good. See where I am going? 

The retail game is to get the highest-margin stuff to the people who will buy the most of it, then make them feel good about paying too much. 

Then again, the rule of audience may apply here. As I’ve noted — and the product offerings tell us  old men like me aren’t the target audience for Rag and Bone. 

Maybe everyone else buying Rag and Bone has such a warped elitist naïveté they actually think a faux human-interest retail initiative can be equated with doing their part. 

The Ugly: Self-serving dreck

When push comes to shove, I pay attention to what research firms and industry organizations are putting out there. Across the board, misinformation is ruling the roost now.

People have more time on their hands — which is a dangerous proposition to begin with — and ad people with time on their hands can be downright perilous. More time to ponder means more time to consume information, or in this instance, misinformation

Enter the IAB’s Ad Spend Impact Study. I can’t mince words. I found the premise in bad taste, and the execution is a case study in point missing self-indulgence. 

Surveying people panicking (we haven’t even had time to fully understand what’s happening, much less make long-term decisions) comes off as ridiculously self-indulgent and it completely missed the point. Media dollars should shift to provide for humanitarian efforts like Ralph Lauren or shifting gears in production to help take care of people like Brooks Brothers

The panic survey, people, is not only self-serving and irresponsible — as in this example — it’s ineffective.  It’s a little like speaking only to the amygdala and skipping the rest of the brain. You’ll get a reaction but not much else.

Shining a light on budget cuts in this way is an insult to every brand manager who put everything on pause in an effort to figure out how they could do their part and contribute to the new world.

The Legacy

Hopefully by now you’ve realized that you need to engage, do commerce and continue on it for no other reason than that you have an obligation to the people who buy your stuff to remind them of why they love the good things they love and offer some semblance of normalcy in this unstable world. 

As we embrace the very real, very long-term impact this ordeal will have on society, we will need a solid foundation to build on with our audience. Only the most compassionate will survive.