I’m going to give you a buck’s worth of free advice. It could save you a lot more than that.
If you’re planning an inspirational, feel-good, we’re all in this together advertising campaign – I’d put that on hold. If you want to launch a message full of uplifting piano tunes and soft lighting, focused on selling your brand through shallow heart strings, you’re going to be torn apart.
It’s a trend that I’m seeing from hundreds of brands. Thousands of brands. Almost all of the advertising is the same. It’s rank and file emoting, without depth, balance or nuance. Ad firms are rushing them out for engagement stats and brand equity without taking a moment to stop and ask if there’s value being added, if there’s a clear goal in mind, or if there’s anything human about their schtick.
There’s no positive cut through. At best, that feel-good campaign will be lost in the noise of every other feel-good campaign. At worst, you’ll be remembered for cheaply profiting from personal anguish with an impersonal pitch.
Audiences are becoming far more cynical right now.
They’re cynical because they’re going through hell. Your audience is going through one of the scariest, most uncertain, most difficult periods of their life. They don’t know what’s coming next. They don’t know who to trust. And in that grey area, they aren’t going to trust you. It doesn’t matter how familiar or household you are. What matters is that your audience knows your brand is worth millions, and your audience is in crisis. When you pitch the line, “we’re all in this together” – they know it’s not true.
Your tone is 100% going to backfire. They will hate it.
Even the audiences that aren’t cynical are sensitive.
They’re hurting and they won’t be comforted by an inspo advertising campaign for a new Toyota. That’s the truth of it. They won’t be comforted by their bank telling them that they stand by their side, when they’re associating their bank with a dwindling balance and a daily check for a stimulus or jobseeker payment, knowing at the back of their minds that their bank has received more government money than they’ll ever get.
That’s not meant as a throwaway indictment of capitalism – it just is what it is. If you can’t understand that sentiment, if you can’t see where it comes from and empathise with it, you have no chance of cutting through with any message at all.
So what’s the option? Just be yourself.
That sounds corny, right?
But it works.
If you’re a brand that builds software, you need to lean into the fact that people who want your platform are going to show up and pay attention because they want your platform. Not because they want to be comforted about a global pandemic. Lean into that. Build a creative campaign that shows how good your platform is. Do it well. Do it right. And do it clean.
If you’re a brand that sells skate shoes? People are going to buy you because you sell skate shoes. Not because you have a cutesy hashtag about togetherness. Lean into that. Build a campaign that shows the culture, the aesthetic and the community behind your shoes. Do it well. Do it right. And do it clean.
That’s your job. Your job isn’t to inspire. Your job isn’t to comfort. You’re not a fucking therapist, and nobody wants you to be. Nobody wants your platitudes. Nobody wants your bullshit. Nobody wants your gently lit black and white homage to the health service that poorly hides your sales pitch. All they want is the core of what you do.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.