Is COVID-19 the right time for a positive marketing campaign?

Amid the current COVID-19 crisis, brands and even broadcasters are looking to offer positive messaging, but there are risks if it isn’t the right message at the right time.

'I Am Australian' video, Credit: ABC
'I Am Australian' video, Credit: ABC

The current COVID-19 pandemic that’s gripping the world is forcing the type of strict isolation and distancing on people most have never experienced before. Yet, with so many connected platforms and services, we’ve never been more together while being apart.

Brands and broadcasters are keen to offer a positive message, but must source the right ingredients to hit the spot. In other words, it needs to be the right message when we as consumers need it.

National broadcaster, the ABC, was quick to respond and has been running a new version of its ‘I Am Australian’ song, this time with a virtual choir made up of everyday Australians singing from their homes during the COVID-19-enforced social isolation. It’s a rallying cry for the country to remind people we’re all in it together and still connected, despite our physical disconnection.

ABC director of audiences, Leisa Bacon, explained to CMO how these unprecedented times called for the broadcaster to repurpose its existing campaign message.

“In 2018 we launched a major brand campaign called 'ABC Yours' aimed at reminding Australians of the value of the ABC, involving incredible Australian presenters, musicians, actors and members of the public telling their ABC stories. This campaign was backed by the iconic song ‘I am Australian’ written by Bruce Woodley AO and Dobe Newtown, which we re-recorded,” Bacon said.

“When we entered the current physical distancing challenges with coronavirus, it felt right to respond by bringing people together, albeit virtually, to uplift the spirits with this beautiful track which was already a known and loved part of our ABC brand.” 

The overwhelmingly positive response shows it hit the spot and demonstrated the importance of this type of messaging, at this time, to bring people together, Bacon said.

“We have had over 4 million Australians view the spot across social and TV, but more incredible has been the positive feedback,” she said.

The ABC has now released a version sung by children across Australia, including students from Broome Primary School singing in Yawuru language. The traditional owners of the area, the Yawuru, provided the translation. It features children in their homes singing and playing instruments including the violin, piano, trumpet and a didgeridoo.

As Australia’s public broadcaster, it’s not just positive messaging for the sake of saying something, Bacon continued. 

“The ABC has a role to keep the nation informed, educated and entertained in response to COVID-19, with trusted content and services all Australians can turn to,” she said. 

More than just a positive message

Echoing a similar point, newly appointed M&C Saatchi CEO, Justin Graham, told CMO positive marketing isn’t simply touting positive messages.

“It's resetting the role of marketing as a critical function within an organisation,” he said.

The former chief strategy officer believes now is the right time for ownable marketing campaigns from brands during COVID-19. “With so much disruption, people are seeking some aspect of normality," he said. 

Brands need to show up as themselves and hopefully in a way that's true to a structure and meaning they have spent time building prior to this.”

There’s a useful function of positive messages in difficult times, and it’s not just the national broadcaster that understands this and wants to give people something genuine to embrace in dark times. Another organisation is Tourism NSW, which has released a video postcard inspired by Matesong accompanied by the uplifting message ‘With Love From Aus - Take time to daydream. We’ll see you again soon’.

Tourism Australia MD, Phillipa Harrison, told CMO in these times of global uncertainty, people need positivity and something to look forward to. 

“‘With Love From Aus’ is a heartfelt message to all Australians and the rest of the world that our beautiful country and its people will be ready to welcome visitors with open arms when the time is right,” Harrison said. “While there are many restrictions on travel and tourism right now, people’s appetite for travel hasn’t disappeared. We want everyone to keep dreaming about the unique experiences and beautiful places across Australia that will be waiting for them on the other side of this.

“More time at home gives us more time to think about the things that really matter – so we want to give people something to look forward to by sharing places they’ll be able to explore in the future.”

Getting the right balance

It’s a belief Graham sees showing up in its research being conducted right now for brands.

“Interestingly, brand concepts pointing towards a more positive and brighter future have researched well, despite the obvious reality of the world in which people are seeing these messages,” he told CMO.

It's this commitment to focusing on the positive that has seen Invoice2go opt to continue with its Tradie of the Year Awards campaign. This is notwithstanding the difficult circumstances many were facing due to COVID-19. 

Invoice2go VP of Marketing, Lisa Marco Pritchard, said it’s crucial to strike a very careful balance and also think with the heart in these situations. 

“We’re not ignoring the fact that, collectively, we’re facing an unprecedented challenge. We’ve been very active in providing advice and support to our customers. However, at the same time, we decided there was also scope for us to demonstrate how proud we are of these industries with the awards,” she said.

Pritchard said the informed decision was based on many considerations, including speaking to the customer support team on the frontline dealing with customers everyday. It's these individuals who are best placed to understand customer concerns, questions and priorities.

“Many of our customers are justifiably concerned about what’s going on, but they’re also searching for positivity, and that’s what we hope to provide,” she added.

Head of Accenture Interactive A/NZ and co-founder and group CEO of The Monkeys & Maud, Mark Green, told CMO brands aren’t exempt from the changing times. 

“Like people, they need to keep it real, add clarity and navigate the crisis with purpose and, above all, humanity,” he said. “No matter the specific circumstances, positive marketing can come from brands whose actions are well thought through, timely and relevant to their audience.”

Green believes now is the right time for positive campaigns as people are looking for hope, help, information, utility and, in some instances, inspiration. 

“If your brand can add value to people’s lives, then there is no reason for not marketing that product or service,” he said.

In this vein, campaigns need to reflect the reality that humans vacillate between optimism and pessimism. It’s a very real, human state and it is a delicate balance to tap into the right sentiment at any given point in time. Campaigns need to be timely, specific and most of all, relevant. Green cites Facebook’s ‘We’re Never Lost if we Can Find Each Other’ campaign, Greece’s #greecefromhome series and even New Zealand Police Force’s stay-at-home message as great examples. 

“It [New Zealand Police Force] was delivered as a comedy skit via a Zoom meeting that accurately reflected all the realities of doing business at home right now, complete with kids’ ‘bombing’ the meeting,” he noted.

Green's advice to brands reviewing their campaigns during the COVID-19 crisis is to consider the ways in which customers’ lives may have fundamentally changed and what their new priorities are. And consider the ways in which the brand will reach and engage with its audience.

“Shape your work for the time, but always remember to be human,” he said. “We’ve seen how COVID-19 has amplified the focus on provoking with purpose. Those organisations who are taking actions that bring their values and brand promise to life are getting noticed and being rewarded.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.


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