As COVID-19 wreaks havoc and disruptions, many businesses and brands are struggling to occupy the same mind space they did before the pandemic.
Businesses grapple for brand recall and to stay relevant at a time when the best marketing plans are flying out of the window. They have to learn to veil their sales pitch and find ways to innovatively convey messages of optimism and safety in the midst of uncertainty. The narrative has changed as businesses take a sombre tone; the messages have become direct and personal safety has taken precedence over everything else.
In this scenario, ‘causevertising’ and ‘brand-selflessness’ have become the new sales and marketing buzzwords as businesses wrap the larger issue of public health and safety around their promotional pitch. Considering the solemn mood around, there is no scope of showing celebrations. Besides, there’s the all-encompassing issue of social distancing which no business can dare violate in any campaign – print or social media. In these circumstances, when businesses do run any campaign, more often than not the focus is safety, good health and well-being rather than a sales pitch; a personal message rather than product promotion.
Apparently, post-COVID-19, businesses will be judged by society on just one criterion – did they rise above petty sales and marketing considerations and respond to the distress calls of a world ravaged by a virus? Did they show solidarity? Messages saying ‘We are in this together’ and to ‘Please believe these days will pass’ besides the call to ‘Stay home, stay safe’ have become universal. Institutions and businesses of all size and nature in Oman too kept the communication direct and simple in expressing solidarity and urging safety.
Real people, not models
Community and private schools, a vocational training institute, ad agency, weekly news magazine and a community sports club rode the current in amplifying the universal message – of stay home, stay safe and break the viral chain – through various social media platforms. Besides the message itself, the striking similarities seen in these are the concept and design – picture collages featuring the staff and employees to deliver it.
Beaconhouse Private School, Dentsu M21, Gaelic football club Clann na hOman, Indian School Ibri, Indian School Muscat and TheWeek, among others, earned ‘likes’, hearts and more with their personalised messages. National Hospitality Institute put a twist to the collage concept by creating a video.
Full service integrated advertising agency Dentsu M21, whose clients include Oman Air and Omantel, created a message collage featuring its staff saying, “Unlearning our world’s old ways. Staying home for a new tomorrow.” According to Ashima Gupta, creative director of the agency, in the given environment and the way things are unfolding, ‘it’s got to be about real people, and not models’. “When a company wants to go out there and say something, who better than the people that represent and work for the company,” she said.
Ashima doesn’t believe her agency’s message could have been delivered by professional models. “In times like this, real people give you comfort and not models. Ads can be made with models. Messages are created with real people in them. Also, this collage is a reminder to us, and to our clients, that we will be here when this is over. So in something like this, models cannot represent, only the people who make the company can.”
‘Creative production solutions’
“The thought behind it is to make it personal, convey a personal message,” said Zakir Mohiyuddin, associate creative director of integrated advertising communications agency Havas Muscat. “It’s also about unleashing creative production solutions to meet the needs during the current times of confinement. In this particular context, since the message is personal, it is more effective and impactful to use real people.”
While declining to rate the creativity of these campaigns, Mohiyuddin said, “I wouldn’t really want to rate them as I would rate ads. However, it’s interesting to see how we have become more experimental with the creative as lockdown becomes the norm.”
The idea behind Clann na hOman’s message was to communicate how its members – from Ireland, UK, Pakistan, USA, China, Syria and South Africa, among others – can help by taking some simple actions during the virus crisis. “By respecting social distancing, making sure everyone feels as safe as possible and looking out for those who are vulnerable in society, everyone has a positive role which they can play during these difficult times,” said Ciarán Cundelan, PRO of the club. “Even though we are apart, our message communicates that we remain as ‘team players’ in supporting one another.”
The personal touch of these messages, evidently, has struck a chord. Commenting on the message collages created by the schools, Dr Hamed al Sinawi, senior consultant psychiatrist – Department of Behavioural Medicine, SQU Hospital, said personalised messages with familiar faces are more effective as there’s a human element to it. “The first thought that comes to our mind on seeing these messages is how nice of teachers to show their support and solidarity to their students,” he explained.
Interpreting the concept behind the messages from the educational institutions, Dr Sinawi said the primary objective is to support students and instill hope with such words. “COVID-19 brought lots of uncertainty to every one, possibly more to youngsters who may not be able to process the different news.”
Asked to rate these messages on a scale of one to 10, Dr Sinawi is rather forthcoming. “The average score will be nine considering the colour, the font of the written words, the facial expression of the people holding the cards and how reassuring they appear,” he said, stamping his approval.