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Distinctiveness in the Time of COVID

By Jessika Gomez-Duarte

We need to start off by saying this: we’re big softies at Collider. If you show us a feel-good video featuring humanity coming together, there will be tears within seconds. That being said, the sheer amount of feel-good, “we’re in this together,” “we care for you” over-the-top emotional ads brought on by the Coronavirus crisis highlights an issue in marketing that’s been here long before the pandemic: for the sake of being relevant, we’re completely destroying Distinctiveness by losing the brand’s tone.

Ad dollars (whatever is left of them) are currently being poured down the drain with sea of sameness messaging that, at best, is lost in the noise of the next ad saying the same thing. And at worst, it feels like you’re a greedy brand co-opting a moment that no one asked you to get involved in.

Think we’re being too harsh? Take a look at this:

It’s the same soft, somber music background. The same muted imagery. The same tone. The same message, whether it’s Spectrum selling Internet or Acura selling cars. A brand that’s “here for you” during “times like this,” because of course YOUR BRAND is needed “now more than ever.” Ending with an uplifting send-off of “family” and “togetherness.”

We’re not saying to ignore the crisis and shine a spotlight on your brand — we’re not promoting being self-serving (not to mention, insensitive). But what we are saying is to be relevant in your own brand’s distinctive tone of voice. If you lose your unique tone of voice or your special funniness or your cutting wit, you can also expect to lose your sales. Because your brand will become wallpaper.

Take a look at the recent Old Spice and Budweiser ads, which are some of the best examples of distinctive COVID-related marketing we’ve seen so far.

If your time-of-crisis messaging isn’t leveraging distinctive brand assets, then your brand is just shouting into a relevancy void. This is the time to lean into and refresh the familiar memory structures people have of your brand via your distinctive brand assets—whether it’s your tagline (Just do It), ownable visual scheme (The magical and weird Skittles World), iconic characters (KFC Colonel), familiar sounds (Old Spice Whistle), or any other brand asset that’s uniquely yours. For more, check out the great work Jenni Romaniuk has done in Building Distinctive Brand Assets along with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

In the “new normal” that everyone is yearning for, consumers are going to look back on brands that were there for them during those times. How do you expect them to remember your brand if you sounded like everyone else? Only the salient brands will be remembered and, consequently, appreciated. So don’t be shy, don’t apologize for existing. Be bold, be confident in your brand tone, because we could all use a little confidence right now.

(Keep in mind that all the views expressed in this post and on this site are personal views. They don’t represent the views of Yum! or any other person or organization except the authors themselves.)

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