May 2020 Industry Report

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in America was January 21st.

During the past 90 days, life has been a roller coaster of emotions – ranging from hope, concern, and trepidation – often all at the same time.

The good news? After many stumbles, it’s clear our government (both state and federal) are going to stoke the economy going forward. It’s likely after unemployment went from record lows to almost record highs in a matter of four weeks, job losses will mitigate as America reopens.

Instead of focusing on the negative, I want to highlight a positive.

The stock market, while highly volatile, has regained a huge chuck of its losses. As consumers regain confidence, in many cases the affluent demographic will have the firepower to spend. Now, it’s time for marketing departments to roll up their sleeves and get to work planning.

As we confront marketing in the “new world,” here are thoughts to consider:

(1) Staying sensitive: COVID-19 has impacted individuals on a personal level world-wide, so the risk of inadvertently coming off as insensitive or even exploitative is higher than ever right now. With social media communication at a peak, one small mistake could mean far-reaching and long-term consequences for you.

(2) Better too serious than sorry: While it’s normally common and effective for brands to keep a conversational tone, it’s best to steer clear of using humor or wit to accomplish now. Even being overly casual can be off-putting. Your content may not be as colorful or aligned with your brand personality, but it’s far better to be more serious than you want to be than to be more sorry than you can express. Keep a positive, inspirational, and helpful tone. Avoid being humorous, witty, or casual.

(3) Ease up on urgency: “Call now” or “book now” buttons on social media are fine; but excitement or scarcity driven copywriting, like “don’t miss out” or “grab your spot before it’s too late” is not going to resonate with consumers or businesses. Nothing is as urgent as COVID-19, and this type of tone is more likely to cause you to come off as unaware or ignorant.

(4) There’s a right way to make light of the situation: Being more serious doesn’t mean somber. You can still stress the bright side; just know the difference between positivity and humor, and between being uplifting vs dismissive of the situation.

(5) Check for insensitive words: You know not to use overt puns, but keep in mind that there are several words and phrases that prior to COVID-19 were completely harmless. For example: “killer deals” or “laughter that’s infectious.”

(6) Employ proper grammar: Your marketing team may have been reduced. Checking for grammar is a no-brainer when it comes to copywriting, but it’s especially important when it comes to COVID-19. Improper grammar can undermine the validity of your facts, and even alter your message. For example, “the governor put a shelter in place for the city” actually means a shelter was put into place and even implies a gathering. Small details matter.

History 101

Studying history is important because it allows us to understand our past, which, in turn, allows us to understand our present.

The Great Depression lasted from 1929 until 1940. It saw America’s gross domestic product (GDP) cut by 50%, with nearly a quarter of all workers unemployed.

By no means are we facing the same long-term calamity, but I thought these two marketing case studies are insightful and might spark conversation in your next marketing meeting.

During the Great Depression orders for soap plummeted. In order to spur sales, Proctor & Gamble (P&G) ramped up marketing in a relatively new medium – radio. They sponsored a daily radio drama called Ma Perkins, which appealed to housewives who could listen-in during the afternoon. The response was so positive that other soap manufacturers started sponsoring daytime radio dramas – and commentators were soon calling all daytime radio dramas “soap operas.” 

Louis Mayer was head of MGM Studios (the movie producer) during the Great Depression. When movie attendance began to plummet, his marketing idea was simple, and invented what we now call the “double feature.” For the same price, movie patrons could see two full-length feature films instead of just one, creating the impression of a bargain. It worked like magic and MGM remained the top dog among movie studios for the next 50 years.

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