Is this the time for agencies to move clients’ campaigns from extractive marketing to cause-related marketing?

I was having a brainstorm with a dear friend as part of a joint pitch for a prospective new client, and it occurred to both of us that brands have not changed their extractive marketing approach much lately, even in these times of COVID-19 when there is a dire need to show compassion to consumers who are battling with losing livelihoods, lives and loved ones alike.

Paraphrasing President Ramaphosa in his family meeting speech on Sunday the 27th of June when he announced lockdown level 4; at the moment every South African has a family member, or knows someone close, who has died of COVID-19. This then includes employees of companies that are clients to many of the marketing and communication agencies that are part of this platform!

When you reflect on many of the brand adverts that have been flighting across the various media during COVID-19, it becomes clear that there is nothing about what brands are doing to aid their consumers who have been going through hard times. It has been business as usual – Sales! Sales! Sales!

What’s worse, COVID-19 is used by the likes of funeral and legal insurance companies to instil more fear in poor consumers who are already buckling under the weight of worry about being infected and dying, and about unserviced debts due to loss of jobs. I find this rather heartless sometimes.

I am the first one to admit that the continued extractive marketing approach and associated campaigns are the default position for all of the agencies. ROI is our watch word, and we are doing everything to show we add real value to our commercial clients and thus ensure we retain our accounts during these hard times when marketing budgets are facing real prospects of getting the chop as has become the norm, if this has not already happened in many instances.

But should marketing and communication agencies not be playing a leading role in steering their clients in the direction of cause-related marketing in this era of rampant joblessness, poverty, the over-burdened health sector and resultant mental sickness; all factors that affect consumers directly?

Surely this is the time for brands to say “we are here for you, we truly care, we are prepared to postpone short-term profits for long-term gain”?

I know it’s counter-intuitive. But this is the time for brands to play their role in seeing consumers regain their wellbeing.

Discovery Medical Aid comes to mind, with the company’s active participation in the rollout of the vaccination programme. See the update Discovery sent me on the 14th of June here. Other brands can do the same, however they do it.

Here is a quote:

The mission of a socially conscious brand combines profit with societal impact — and this is a growing trend. Use your brand’s values and purpose to guide your response to a crisis (like Covid-19) and societal shifts (like the Black Lives Matter movement).

And almost 4 in 5 people could cite a time a brand responded positively to the pandemic and 1 in 5 strongly agreed it led to increased brand loyalty on their part, according to research by Deloitte.

Daily Karma

I argue that this isn’t the time to be pointing fingers at government for its bungling, corruption and other ills.

This is the time for brands to show they care, and marketing and communication agencies have a role to play by introducing ground-breaking cause-related marketing campaigns for them [the brands].

As I conclude, I am wondering if SA Breweries should be pursuing a case against the South African government for what is now 11-day alcohol sales ban that is related to lockdown level 4. Can SAB really claim that this temporary ban is going to force it to close down permanently as it won’t be able to survive without beer sales income until middle of July? Shouldn’t SA Breweries be calling the Corporate Affairs department, the SAB Foundation and its marketing and communications agencies into one room and task them to turn this ban into a cause-related marketing campaign that communicates the message to its consumers, and the nation that, that the company is willing to do its part in driving COVID-19 infections down, even if it means suffering from the temporary closure, as part of its #CountryDuty? I’ll leave it there.

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