Commentary

Sorry For The Bad News

We seem to have gotten bored with the crises unfolding around us.

Two weeks ago, my column was about how brands should engage with the Black Lives Matter protests. (Spoiler: Don’t.)

Two weeks before that, I was imploring you to understand that the coronavirus hasn’t gone away.

Artie White’s sarcastic response to that post made me laugh: “Wow, what a wonderful thing to read. Hope and optimism are for fools; embrace pain and uncertainty as we march toward our inevitable death. MediaPost should feature more industry-relevant content like this. Perhaps someone could reach out to Fedor [sic] Dostoyevsky to see if he is available to be a featured contributor as well?”

Artie is not alone in wanting to move on from doom and gloom stories. MediaPost headlines seem to have largely moved on from talk of pandemic or protest. It’s all back to normal: all Disney ad teams and their unified platform push, all Twitter and YouTube introducing new ad formats.

But if you are good at your job, you understand why this kind of content is industry-relevant. As a marketer, part of your job is to meet the moment. And, given necessary lead times, meeting the moment means anticipating the moment.

Anticipating the moment means understanding that -- sorry, Artie -- we are still only just beginning to feel the effects of the pandemic.

This week, another 1.5 million additional Americans filed for unemployment. That makes 13 weeks in a row with more than a million new jobless claims.

At the worst of the last global financial crisis, new jobless claims didn’t crack 700,000.

You gonna promote your product without regard to this context? How’s that going to go over?

You’re not thinking about pricing, about messaging, about packages, about how you can look after your customers through this?

Marketing is the process by which you recognize your customers, and the process by which your customers recognize themselves in you.

If your customers’ context has changed dramatically, and you haven’t, they will no longer recognize themselves in you.

Maybe at this point you’re thinking, “But my customers are going back to normal. Meeting the moment means I have to go back to normal, too.”

Well, sure, if your customers are going back to normal, right now that’s how you need to engage with them. But if you’re not preparing for the potential of further dramatic upheaval, you’ll get caught on the back foot when it hits.

NYU professor Nouriel Roubini, who in 2006 predicted the collapse of the U.S. housing market, is suggesting we’re heading for a “Greater Depression,” including food riots, a trade war, and more.

But you can begin preparing now, Roubini says: “The market, as currently ordered, is going to make capital stronger and labor weaker. So, to change this, you need to invest in your workers. Give them education, a social safety net -- so if they lose their jobs to an economic or technological shock, they get job training, unemployment benefits, social welfare, health care for free.” 

That recommendation is about looking after workers. Here’s my recommendation for marketers: Be ready. Be ready for what you would offer if there is no quick rebound, or if we get even more downward pressure. Be ready for how you would communicate with your stakeholders and what you would say.

Be ready for any contingency. You may need it.

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