There’s a certain level of emotional intelligence (in the world, in consumers, in brands) that reveals what should be obvious, but is not in many cases: having your brand always point to ‘the good’ is invalidating to the very real emotions revolving around ‘the bad.’
For example, yes, brands almost always in their marketing feed off of pain points, followed by a presentation of how their service or product is a solution to those problems. In a 10-second commercial, it’s a two-second pause on the bad, and an eight-second ‘check out the good’ display. And more or less, this is intuitive. Humans don’t like focusing on the bad. Humans search for the good.
Lights On in Dark Places
But, in the new light of several social crises developing at the same time (Covid-19 death, neighborhood loss of culture due to mass business closures, civil unrest, climate issues [both things like fires and political panic], and more), it has become clear to brand marketing strategists such as ourselves that it is not the time to keep focusing on the good. In fact, to do so would be to invalidate the despair felt by so many.
Just the same as in practicing mental health or active listening, a depressing issue can only be avoided through happy or time-consuming distractions before you realize the avoidance has been making the issue worse. Only through allowing yourself to move through the bad, acknowledge the bad, can we make space to experience the good in a productive way.
In practice, here’s what this looks like:
A DoorDash commercial could focus on free delivery fees for local restaurants, encouraging consumers to not only indulge in takeout, but to support their local businesses who are doing their best to keep their doors open right now (or at least, their delivery driver doors). This feeds off a very real and very deep pain point for consumers, but then glosses over it into the display of positivity, smiling families, and steamy food. Is it possible that DoorDash should actually be spending more time on the bad? Or at least portray their attempt at doing good without making it seem like they already saved the restaurant industry?
Mindless Versus Mind-Numbing
We think: yes. It is true that people watch Hulu or scroll Instagram (where they see this ad) as a distraction and are not expecting to be thrown right back into reality with a no-nonsense ad. However, with this heavy of a year, it might actually prove beneficial to surprise these consumers by validating that, yes, this sucks. Everything sucks. We feel it, just like you. This, simplistically, would be switching that commercial ratio to eight seconds on the bad, two seconds on the good (the proposition). Here’s what that would look like in practice:
A DoorDash ad panning across a small local main street with closed doors, empty streets, and some scattered masked pedestrians. People are disconnected and holding on by threads. This is reality. But, this is reality for so many people, that though we are alone in our houses, we are still a community. Indulge in the good today with free delivery from your local small businesses, on us.
Are “Let’s Face It”s Better than “At Least”s?
Now, I don’t know about you, but that would actually make me feel a little bit more okay with everything going on– at least we’re acknowledging it, at least we’re being real with each other. It’s not all chocolate desserts and learning to bake bread at home– it’s okay that you feel like garbage, in fact it makes the most sense to feel like garbage. Allow yourself to treat yourself or your family, while supporting another family in your community, with some good food. Validation for the soul, even when focusing on the bad, I believe is better than endlessly trying to cover up everything going on.
Of course, to pull this off, integrated marketing services would need to have an exquisite pulse on the tensions of their consumers, the length of crises, and execution that can’t be perceived as exploitative of pain. This is harder than the traditional ‘focus on the good’ strategy. But, with the right team, maaaaybe like the top ad agency in Austin, Texas, and the world, a balance can be struck. A balance that strikes the exact right chord in the consumers– the humans– that are living through this year that, let’s face it, really, really sucks.