How ‘Scotty From Marketing’ is failing to market his response to Covid-19

It was vital that Scotty From Marketing got his marketing communication strategy right this time.

For Australia, 2020 is shaping up to be an apocalypse of biblical proportions. First, there were bushfires, then floods and now a plague has descended on the country and the world. At a time when leadership is required, Australia has #ScottyFromMarketing. As I have written before, the Australian prime minister’s hashtag is actually a significant insult to professional marketers everywhere.

It was reported earlier this year, the chief creative officer at PwC, Russel Howcroft, was called to the prime minister’s office late last year for marketing advice. Clearly the advice was not taken in regard to the bushfires, where Scotty From Marketing failed on a number of occasions to get the marketing message right.

Facing the looming threat to Australia that the coronavirus (Covid-19) posed earlier this year, it was vital that Scotty From Marketing got his marketing communication strategy right this time. So how has it gone?

Well, let’s set the context from a brand and marketing perspective. Australia is not like Singapore or Japan, which are held up as excellent examples for their response and the results they appear to have achieved. Singapore is like Nike, a single, focused brand. Sure, Nike has different product divisions such as athletics, basketball, tennis, football, etc, but the brand speaks and interacts with the customer with one voice.

It is also a brand that has the trust of the customer and so they can take a generally unpopular stand, but their supporters love them even more for it. Take the Colin Kaepernick ad campaign.

Instead, Scotty From Marketing heads brand Australia that is actually made up of individual states, with individual leaders, individual responsibilities, and individual voices. Instead of one brand voice, the audience in Australia and around the world sees a country of many voices. Imagine if Nike allowed each product division to go off and create their own brand positioning and owned communications campaign to suit their own whims and wishes. Suddenly it would transform from Just do it! to Can’t do it?

The impact of this lack of marketing discipline is that consumers are not listening. It is why on a sunny day in Sydney, the iconic Bondi Beach was crowded with people when the government had urged the public to practice ‘social distancing’. The photographs of the crowded beach were published around the world as a sign that Australians were not taking the threat seriously. Clearly the government marketing messaging coming from Scotty From Marketing was not working. But why?

Any marketer who has faced a crisis knows the difficulties you face. A crisis of this proportion and threat is possibly the most difficult situation you could possibly face. Inside an organisation structure, where there are competing needs and requirements, makes this task even more difficult. The shifting circumstances and the constant update of information are overwhelming for the public, let alone for those responsible for responding to the threat. Striking the balance of importance and urgency, without causing panic is paramount. Presenting a unified and well-considered strategic approach to communicate the situation is in hand is ideal. So, where does that leave Australia? And for that matter any number of other countries including Italy, United Kingdom, USA and more grappling with this challenge?

Let’s consider this not from a political or operational perspective, but simply within the context of the hashtag #scottyfrommarketing. While real marketers know that marketing is more than just marketing communications, the cynical context of the hashtag is derived from the perception that marketing is simply communications spin. So, what does great marketing communications look like in these unprecedented circumstances? In other words, how can ‘Scotty From Marketing’ live up to the true potential of marketing?

Is there evidence of a long-term strategy, or simply a succession of tactical responses to the evolving crisis? Even in crisis, marketer develop a communication strategy to provide a framework for developing and managing communications throughout.

Is there a clear and consistent theme to the messaging that builds awareness, consideration and action from the audience? All of the communications, from press briefings, interviews, advertising and more should be on strategy, reinforcing the overall campaign message, responding consistently to the changing needs and building reassurance and relevance on the issue.

Is there a thoughtful and considered approach to communication channel management? Detailed information should always be provided in a way that is understandable, relevant and actionable, while delivered within the strategic framework that provides the overall strategic message of the communication objective.

“Unprecedented” is an overused word to provide context to the current situation. But, while the magnitude of challenges dealing with a global health crisis cannot be underestimated, as a marketer Scotty From Marketing is not a shining example of what marketing can achieve in these unpreceded circumstances. As a politician and leader, Australia will have to wait for the next general election to have their say.

Darren Woolley is founder and global chief executive of TrinityP3

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