Do Not Promote: Your Brand Can Wait, And Why It Should

Photo by Scott Heins

As a marketer, I try to be sensitive of time and place. In a variable state there is an appropriate moment, and visa versa. This week has worn us all out and emotions are high, so bear with me as I call out some frustrating behavior, on the corporate blog no less. There might be many of these pieces floating around the internet after this week, (and truly, I hope there are) but brand marketers and those who profit from promoted ads need to re-think their message at this time. Or best, turn it off.

In my own aftermath of discovery, and social media scrolling, finding out about the tragedies of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the police shootings in Dallas, I was utterly dismayed at the lack of respect that brands, agencies and overall promoted social media platforms have in place for incidents of national crisis.

There is, at least at Oliver + Sons and at other agencies I’ve worked, an instinct among marketing teams to postpone and remain silent on social media during moments when people need news or comfort, or something other than consumerism and product updates. I would never want to associate a client with anything but total understanding of the humans that they serve. And sometimes that’s to be silent — for their own benefit, but mostly for the fact that we too are human and sifting through feed ads, promo emails and advertising are equally off-putting and insulting when all you want is to understand what happened and how to help.

I urge my marketing comrades to shut it all off. In the moments following intense breaking news, once I typically remove myself from personal shock, my first order is a call-off on all consumer-facing communication. This is not a time for flash sales, pandering blog posts or tweets about the next new thing.

This is a time to let your audience know you’re in the same moment with them, and it’s always better to say nothing than to sell anything.

If I could, I would make it mandate for social-posting outlets to have a Humane Voice Alert. Yes, I am talking to you; HubSpot, CoSchedule, Buffer, Twitter and Facebook Ads etc. Issue a warning to your larger brand marking teams – say, by way of an alert pop-up? – that maybe today might not be the best time to try to grab the sale, generate leads, or simply do business. With respect, if a brand or client wants to reach out in a different way with a message that sympathizes and consoles, I applaud and do my job. But a “Summertime Bonanza” will not be the message I ever send. And you can fire me on that.

Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP

My clients are good people, their brands are personas. Treat your brand like a person you find on social media. There are deeper consequences of promoting a message that is tone-deaf to the culture it exists in. On the surface, there is the following fall-out, which is the easiest to see and the least problematic. Deeper down, there is a subliminal aversion to the brand identity, which affects the efforts, time and money of those working to make and sell your products. And finally, there is the desensitization of pushing an agenda without acknowledging the context of your consumers, which is both insulting to them and morally questionable.

I’m not saying don’t do your business. Let’s all go to work, but let’s not throw it in anyone’s’ face while they are mourning or protesting. The country, and your audience, needs collective consolation and reflection more than 20% off your goods and services. The definition of tragedy, and the way a crisis is handled by those with the megaphone, can be subjective. But, I think as marketers, we can tell when the tide has shifted from personal feeling to total crisis, and if you can’t then… well, I’m pretty sure this is not the job for you. There are no rules to this concept, but there should be gut-instinct and empathy.

Let’s call out these companies that are participating in the conversation for their own benefit and push larger platforms to take a moral issue with running a campaign without letting those advertisers know it is doing so in a time when social media is needed for the premise of which it was created: community over corporations.

Love over hate. Humans over consumers.