Can brands do more than governments?

What do you say to someone in complete stress?

Do you empathize? Do you ignore? Do you give hope?


As marketeers, we’re inclined to empathize. Yes, we feel your pain. Tough times, but we are there for you. It’s a logical reaction. We want to relate with the consumer emotion. That’s what we do as marketeers. It led to really nice advertising campaigns during the Covid pandemic. But the problem is, everybody was doing the same.

During the lockdown, every company talked in the exact same way. We acknowledged the tough times, we knew how people felt, but promised people that -often thanks to our products or services- we were going to pull through together.

Not convinced?


We thought we were hitting an emotional chord, but actually we were creating wallpaper.

After the second lockdown, people were fed up with the empathetic campaigns, and asked brands to pick up their usual tone-of-voice.

Too much empathy disconnects

So instead of empathizing, shouldn’t we rather show messages of optimism, prosperity in harsh times?

Research shows that people put faith in companies, more so than in politicians. So let’s not talk like politicians, but like the entrepreneurs we are or once were when we created a new product or service. As suppliers of jobs, creators of innovation, believers in human ingenuity, we don’t just sell products, so don’t see yourself just as a seller wanting to buy goodwill for your brand by showing that we care. Lead the way, be brave, open a new factory, hire new people, launch a new product. Bring thát story.

Same story today. In this cost-of-living crisis, a lot of brands talk about low prices, special discounts, sales, etc. All with the best intentions: helping consumers maintain their standard of living. But a recent study from Advertising Age shows that consumers are asking for festive, fun ads. People know there is a crisis going on; it’s in the newspaper next to our ads, and on TV before and after our TV commercials. No need to remind them. But rather connect with them on another emotional level. Make them smile, make them feel good, inspire them for 30 seconds or one page. You’re not only doing them a favor, you’re also doing your brand a favor. The Yaka!-campaign for L’Echo is a great example. As a business newspaper it would be easy for them to communicate around the impact of the crisis. Instead they choose to enthuse entrepreneurs in a fun, lighthearted way.


No, advertisers shouldn’t ignore societal problems like pandemic or economical crises. But there are other ways to show that you care than just through advertising.

There is an opportunity for companies to take up the role the consumer trust them with: showing the way forward.

Jonathan Detavernier
Strategic Director – Partner at FamousGrey




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