Should we still be advertising during a period of national mourning?
The Queen’s passing proves that brands must tread carefully following national tragedy. Ruth O’Brien of agency Found recounts the day the news broke and how to navigate marketing during a period of mourning.
Should brands take a rain check on their marketing strategy while the nation is in mourning? / Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash
Last Thursday was a wild ride in agency land. When presenters across the BBC all suddenly changed into black clothing, we knew it was likely that operation London Bridge was in motion. In the office, discussion quickly turned to what our clients needed to do next, and which channels would be impacted. Naturally, for us, organic and paid social were the biggest focus.
Putting plans in motion
Immediately, the afternoon was dedicated to informing clients, writing up recommendations of what to do (and more importantly, what not to do) and ensuring that we had a clear plan in place.
We began receiving messages from various social media and agency contacts asking if we were planning to pause activity, alongside a few reliable contacts sharing expected timings for the news to break. This helped cement our plans and advice to clients, our main concern being that we were told to expect the announcement at around 6pm, which would be out of hours for many.
The first thing we did was send an alert to all our clients, regardless of whether we were responsible for their paid social activity. The alert included expected timings, guidance in accordance with existing London Bridge plans, recommendations for how long to pause paid activity, proposed copy for any social tributes, and advice for other external comms including email, influencers and display.
Some of our smaller-scale clients are reliant on paid activity for revenue. We expected many to be hesitant and concerned about the impact to business. With the current cost of living crisis proving to be a growing concern, we recommended pausing activity on Thursday and Friday, and reviewing over the weekend before reactivating on Monday (pending industry and online consensus).
Should brands be marketing at all?
Is advertising during a period of mass mourning disrespectful? I’d argue no. If you’re having a 50% sale ‘for the Queen’ or pushing a bank holiday fashion edit – then yes, that’s wrong. But normal comms should be fine. We live in an age where many brands are reliant on advertising to stay in business. Two weeks of inactivity is not ideal when energy bills are sky-high and post-pandemic recovery has been slow.
For household name brands, now is not the time to be running big brand campaigns. Nationwide campaigns simply aren’t going to have much impact right now. For those on limited performance-based budgets, the situation is a bit different. Smaller brands and startups cannot necessarily afford such widescale disruption.
The potential risk to reputational damage is high. Another concern is whether there’s much point in investing in channels likely to be flooded with people monitoring or talking about the news. Audiences on a mass scale currently rushing to social media aren’t in a buying frame of mind, whether we like it or not.
I do think there’s a positive argument to be made for regaining a sense of normality and what part brands have to play in it. Timing is everything, so it’s important to have an eye on the conversation on social media, and a plan that allows agility when needed.
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Does it make sense?
As for whether brands should be a part of the conversation happening right now, we recommend our clients use common sense and consider if it makes sense for their brand to post. If it doesn’t make sense for your audience or feels like a promotion, simply don’t do it.
That includes sticking a brand logo on a message of condolences or photo of the Queen. If it makes sense, for example where the brand had royal connections or was regularly part of UK cultural conversations, then by all means post a tribute.
Another consideration is that not all consumers are necessarily warm toward the monarchy. If you’re worried about negative reactions, don’t get involved. There’s a trend of piggybacking on to any major cultural or news event, and it’s clear audiences are becoming skeptical. No one needs to know their favorite burger brand’s reflections on the Queen.
Resisting the urge to weigh in on every cultural moment is difficult for those in the swirl of social media, but my advice to marketers is to know your audience and know how to choose your moments wisely. You might not necessarily suffer by staying silent, but you can certainly do a lot of damage as soon as you hit send on that reactive tweet.
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