“You say it best when you say nothing at all?”

“You say it best when you say nothing at all?”

In Professor Byron sharp’s recent piece in Campaign (“Why the best response to Covid-19 was to stop advertising”) the Prof rails against the endless hand-wringingly earnest advertising many big brands put out in the wake of Covid.

In the article he is quoted as saying that it is “embarrassing arrogance” that marketers would think people were interested in what they had to say about the virus, and goes on to add that “ultimately they were ineffective because they all said the same thing”.

It’s hard to disagree.

He cites this YouTube video as evidence of how so many brand marketers abandoned any hope of achieving distinctiveness with their comms, and instead rushed to put out “Hey! We care too!” ads that were ripe for parody – like in this painfully toe-curling send-up.

What I find hard to agree with, though, is the Professor’s view that the correct brand response to this sea of bland corporate hogwash has been to stay silent.

Professor Byron lauds Coca Cola for taking the strategic decision not to put out an insipid brand campaign in response, and instead save its bucks for when society started to return to normal.

“When you’re a big brand like Coke, going off air isn’t going to matter”.

However not all big brands thought as Coke did. Some – like KFC – decided to be a little more playful and produce ads that managed to raise a rueful smile and remain in the public eye, whilst true to their brand roots.

In this piece for Contagious, Mother’s Executive Creative Director Hermeti Balarin explains the insights that drove the creation of a global campaign that dared to censor its world-famous slogan and opt for something more apposite.

“People absorbed the initial shock and went into lockdown mode and a lot of brands went into quite a weird ‘we’re here for you’ mode, which felt quite cynical in lots of places. KFC never even contemplated going there. 

“But past that initial really gloomy moment in time, people started to crave a bit of lightness to balance out their day.

“There was no new entertainment being made, no sports, no going out, no seeing family, at that point people are starting to go, ‘Fucking hell, I really empathise with everyone that lost loved ones and everything that’s going on, but my mental health needs a breather.’

“We started to feel like there had to be a role here for brands to play if you get it right. If you’re not insensitive, there will be a moment – quicker than we thought – that you can go out.“

What’s fascinating in the piece is that KFC’s brand team had already been through a real-life dry run for their brand catastrophe planning. Only a year or so earlier, a change to KFC UK’s supply chain meant that KFC restaurants suddenly started running out of chicken.

The brand’s immediate ad response was both apologetic and knowing, and the brand quickly recovered.

Maybe it was the dry-run that primed the brand team & agency to put out comms that remained distinctive and true-to-brand.

I’ve voiced elsewhere my own view that the best time to make yourself heard is when everyone else is silent.

Sorry, Prof, I think you may have taken the lyrics of Ronan Keating’s meisterwork to heart a little bit too much.

But I’m with KFC & Mother on this one.

Simon Hayhurst

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