A Sign of the Uncertain Times

Television is almost unwatchable right now because of a never-ending onslaught of SADS (Sad advertisements) about COVID-19. You’ve seen them. They all use that same somber piano music and whether they are reminding you that they’ve been in business for over 50 or 75 years or saluting our essential workers for their brave service or just telling you how we’re all going to get through this…together…. they all have one thing in common—They remind us of the stupid and awful times we’re actually living in.

Why do most people WATCH television? That’s right — it’s supposed to be an ESCAPE from real life. A place where you can watch mindless sitcoms with laugh tracks, get sucked into murder mysteries usually involving the criminal justice system, view your favorite sporting events—or just watch cartoons.  But we DO NOT watch television to be reminded of sadness. In fact, people will reject and turn away from that message if you press hard enough.

I advise my clients to do these things instead:

  • Make your message about the problems you solve for people.  Be clear about that.  That’s what people still (and always will) want.
  • Don’t say “we are here for you”. You aren’t.  Not really.  So stop it.
  • If you can use humor — DO IT!  Man, do we need it right now.  
  • Do not use these trite phrases that all brands are using “uncertain times,” “we’ll get through it together” or “contactless” (that’s not even a real word)

Never forget that marketing is an exercise in MEMORIZATION. So changing what you say often may feel better for you personally, but it CONFUSES your audience. The best brands say who they are and do it the same way for years because that’s how we’re going to memorize who you are and why we should care.

But message fatigue is a real thing too. Jakob Jensen, a University of Utah professor, has been studying how people have responded around the nation to information about the coronavirus. Seven weeks into his study, in which his team surveys 400 people nationwide on a weekly basis, Jensen said it appears the public is experiencing “message fatigue.”

“Normally, message fatigue is around 10% to 15%,” Jensen said. “To see message fatigue as high as 50% in the national surveys — it’s pretty high for something that is not a day-to-day occurrence.”

Brands just jumping on the COVID-19 “we’re here for you” bandwagon aren’t doing themselves any favors. Especially when so many of the ads just blend together and feel like you’re watching the same never-ending maudlin ad for how bad your life is right now. 

Messaging is everything. Follow the very wise StoryBrand advice of creating their story just for them with them as the hero. That’s how you do it!  And that’s how WE get back to times we can be certain about once more!

Check out this great compilation of COVID-19 ads and notice how similar they are: