It's Valentine's month and brands have gone all out professing their love; some not too successfully. The Japanese brand Loft & Woolworth's South Africa was recently criticised for their ads stereotyping women. Loft finally pulled down the ad and even issued an apology. There is the obvious and pertinent issue of sexism in marketing here.
But this also highlights the desperate need brands seem to have to be 'part of the conversation'; which makes sense if your brand motto aligns with the conversation or when you have something new or interesting to say. But most brands don't, and that's ok, but why this desperation to be heard? And frankly, being heard isn't the same as being bought.
Marketers have somehow convinced themselves that in this culture, where consumers are perpetually busy and where attention is scarce, what every celebration requires is every brand adding to the noise on that same day. And I'm sure that many a time, this works too. But the massive amount of dollars spent will give you returns any time of the year. The question is not always the returns, but whether those returns are justifiable for the spends.
Do we really believe customers won't go and shop during Valentine's Day or Christmas if we don't advertise? Because it may just slip their minds if we don't?
India is no different; on Republic day, various brands, from insurance to cement and pharmacies etc. decide to show their national colours. A few months later I'm sure a bunch of them will show their Holi colours, and then celebrate Independence Day, Diwali, Eid, Christmas and other events with us. It's a yearlong celebration and brands are the (uninvited) guests!
It's become so comical that I remember one agency head would use the same (two) Diwali creatives for about 15-20 of his clients. His logic "...Who checks these anyway on Facebook or Twitter."
And that's true! How many of the fan-base will take the time on their holiday to go through their newsfeed and glance not at wishes/posts from their friends or family, but from some brand?
Some brands go beyond, like Parle-G for instance - last Independence Day, the brand spoke about a soldier's sacrifice as 'Desh ka Parle-G' (Translated: "the country's biscuit"). I remember a friend from the army being dumbfounded saying, "Did they really compare us to a biscuit?!" But the more important question is - what does a biscuit brand have to do with the army? Nationalism? Borders? Even if the ad is good people will remember it, hardly the brand because there is no context.
But Parle-G isn't the only one. The ad space in India or globally is littered with brands who are desperately trying to push their message onto our celebrations. What's changing is the occasion, but rarely the context in the conversation.
One rare brand which managed to build context around an occasion/event was UberEats in Australia. Watch the ads here.
Instead of forcing themselves onto a cause or an event, they cleverly integrated with the storyline. Instead of a standard celebrity endorsing a product during the ad break, they got into details like having a similar outfit or in the case of Kyrgios spinning his actual injury with the narrative of the script.
The lesson here is not to be a brand which is trying to pander to everyone and every occasion, trying to use every 'touch point' to talk to a customer because, frankly, a consumer doesn't like that.
He or she isn't picking up the newspaper or watching TV or scrolling through her newsfeed for your wish or greeting. In fact, chances are your message or video is coming in between what she wants to see.
Respect that, respect your brand's own individuality and align with events/causes you believe in or those connected to your brand's identity. And most importantly, if you can't be interesting, relevant or at least clever, like UberEats above, then there is really no point.
(The author is a brand consultant & trainer)
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