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What Now? What When? Marketing Through a Pandemic

Johnny Molson


It matters not how we got here. We’re here. 

You want to fight about it? Let me introduce you to the rest of the internet. 

Let’s look at right now…and what to do when we come through this.  

Because we will.

Roy Williams, our head Wiz at Wizard of Ads, sent a note to all of our partners with this recommendation: “Every client has asked if we should make a coronavirus-themed ad. I have talked all of them out of it by reminding them that what people hunger for most right now is a glimpse of normalcy. They are looking for familiarity, a smile, optimism. ‘We do not win by running with the herd. We win by taking the road less traveled.’”  

Read his full letter here.

Hope is a stronger motivator than despair. You aren’t ignoring the realities. You’re standing firm and saying “we’ve got this.”  

Because we do.

There’s a subtle art in getting that point across. As strange as it may seem, you actually say it…by not saying it at all. The idea of “normalcy” is conveyed by doing exactly what you were planning on doing, COVID or no COVID. While things are particularly not-normal right now, they will be normal on the other side.  

 If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowence for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
 Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it

-Rudyard Kipling

You should read that whole poem. Or see it read by Sir Michael Caine. You’ll be better for it.

Beyond a well-penned poem, there are marketing laws at play. A well-built brand is one that is planting seeds for tomorrow. If your business or service is one with the long purchase cycle (those things that one may buy every 6 months at most), the best move you have is to keep telling your story as you are telling it. Those who are seeing/hearing your ads today are only thinking about making a purchase that’s 12 to 18 months down the road. What do you want them to think about when that day comes? 

That’s what you say today (and the many tomorrows ahead).

Admittedly, if you are a restaurant or a grocery store, things are more than a little wackadoodle right now. You are in the “right now” business, so it will make more sense for you to speak to “right now.” Just don’t feed into the temptation to blather on about the obvious. You gain nothing by telling your customers, “In these uncertain times, we are washing our hands for you.”

As opposed to…?

As with the long-tail businesses mentioned above, just be there.  By just “being there,” the customer knows you’re strong and you’re fighting with her. She KNOWS what’s going on. She’s well aware of all of it. Her head is swimming in constant reminders. To reiterate that things are weird out there is about as useful as telling her deserts are dry.

Don’t waste your words.  

Marketing professor Mark Ritson concurs.  Now is the time to think long…not short.
“…the temptation is to dump [your marketing budget] into shorter-term performance marketing and sales promotions. That would be an error. No amount of hot deals and clever sales activation can stimulate a market that is currently terrified, locked inside their homes and unsure of their future.”

I write this with the complete understanding and utter respect that what is happening now is unprecedented. In many ways, we are all trying to build an airplane while it’s already in the air. 

Adjectives and analogies don’t yet exist to exemplify how genuinely weird this all is. On the scale of things that are important right now…Marketing isn’t even on the board.

But marketing is a rope that directly connects your business tomorrow with the realities of today.

Ritson concludes, “…consumers will return to the streets, the cafes and the various other activities that they have been denied during the dark days ahead. Keep the brand light burning, because the cost of snuffing it out for the rest of 2020 and then trying to reignite it next year is gigantic.”

Now go wash your hands (literally) and hug a medical worker (virtually).

Johnny Molson

For a deeper look at this topic, watch the video below

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