Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Patrick Collister: Shhhh. Brands need to know when to be quiet

Patrick Collister, NDA’s monthly creative columnist, is the Curator of The Caples Awards, Editor of Directory and a friend to Ad-Lib.io.

The economy is shrinking. Inflation is up, confidence is down. And the marketing press is filled with agency bosses exhorting brands to spend their way out of the crisis.

But as well as knowing when they should be advertising, marketers really ought to know when they shouldn’t.

When a Queen dies, for instance.

The fact that some people are prepared to queue for 24 hours and inch their way the whole 10 miles to Westminster Hall to pay their respects to our departed monarch tells you how (most of) the UK feels.

Even the republicans among us concede that Elizabeth II was the real deal.

So, to the marketer who tweeted “This is true brand love,” I would say, “No it ain’t mate. Don’t delude yourself. No brand in the history of ever could mean so much to so many people for such different reasons.”

For me, the tweet reveals the bubble marketers now inhabit, detached from the real world.

To think of the Queen as a brand is not just glib and thoughtless, it is insulting. It assumes that brands are that important. And they’re not.    

It’s easy to find parallels. You’ve got a logo, EIIR, not to mention a lion and a unicorn. You have tangible assets in the Crown jewels, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and so on.

Even a sort-of jingle in the National Anthem. And you have intangibles, a set of values that includes duty, loyalty and respect for family.

(True, these have been harder to maintain of late what with the comings and goings of various Princes.)

But the difference is in depth and breadth of purpose.

No brand can mean so much as she did. And still does.

That is why there is so much anger directed at brands trying to “be part of the conversation” right now.

Their contributions are inappropriate and insensitive.

This morning I got an email from an insurance company.

A black and white picture of the Union Jack flying at half-mast. Headline: In loving memory of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

What does an insurance know of love?

A tyre company emails to tell me they will be closed for the state funeral.

Why?

I suppose the train of thinking is: let’s email all our customers to tell ‘em how grief-stricken we all are down at Protyre.  Then, next time they’re up for a set of retreads or maybe even a couple of radial cross-plys, they’ll come to us.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone at Protyre that few of us want to lean on the shoulder of a man in blue overalls with an eagle tattooed on his forearm and weep.  

At least they aren’t as crass as holiday company Center Parcs, which, “out of respect” for Her Majesty, has told its guests they are going to have to move out of their lodges on Sunday September 18th, leaving them empty on Monday 19thSeptember, the day of her funeral. Guests can get back in on Tuesday. Sobbing with gratitude and admiration for the Canadian-owned company’s integrity, no doubt.

Also, “out of respect”, The Guardian reports that Morrisons Supermarkets have toned down the beeps of their cash tills.

As the journalist Marina Hyde wrote (HERE), all these brands are doing is getting people to shout at their screens, nobody cares. “Nobody cares what you do or don’t do.”

Within their bubbles, the marketers at Domino’s, McDonalds et al appear to think we will think better of them for their pious homilies. What planet are these people on?

After the murder of George Floyd, the backlash against l’Oréal for tweeting its support for “the Black community” was surprising only to l’Oréal.

The cynicism of brands has been gleefully seized on by brand hackers and anti-advertising creatives, who have used bitter humour to make it plain that at a time like this, brands have no role to play. None. At. All.

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