Dead End sign

How the virus killed marketing


March 2020.

As I write this, there are over 245,000 cases of coronavirus and 10,000 deaths.

And one casualty no-one’s talking about. Marketing.

Yesterday, I walked into the city to run a workshop. Yep: they’re still happening, just with people dialling in.

As I walked, I noticed some of the ads.

Vodafone’s telling me to get 5G ready. I’m not even sure I’m 3 ply ready (I’m used to 4 ply loo roll).

Apparently, I can get a lobster meal for just $29.99 at the Star Casino. I can’t even buy the rice cakes my daughter likes.

OK, I understand these messages take months to prepare and develop. So how about online?

I logged into my bank account. NAB has a small message saying they’re ‘here to support’ me, with a link. Gee, thanks.

ING? Nothing on their home page. Oh, wait: a message about ‘Went a little silly this season? Take control of your debts’.

Facebook? Artshub: ‘Find your career in the arts’. What arts? That’s gone. 120,000 people have lost their jobs in Hollywood. Museums, theatres all closed.

Oh: it’s my last chance to download thousands of infographics – 70% off! Thank goodness?

Life has changed forever. And the messages I’m getting are from another time, another world. They’re completely out of step.

Why aren’t marketers working overtime to get out the messages that really matter: ‘We’re with you’. ‘We understand’. ‘We’re scared too’. ‘We’ll find a way’. ‘Talk to us: we’re listening’. Not business as usual.

90% of my work has been cancelled, with no warning. Just a ‘we’ll be in touch … sometime’.

I’m lucky. Full cupboards. Enough in the accounts to weather the storm – for a while anyway.

I’m scared. Sure, energised about the possibilities – a chance to rethink how I work and deliver. But that’s for tomorrow.

Most of us will survive this period. We’ll come out stronger.

Right now, marketing messages show they’re not with us. They’re in their own bubble.

Now’s the time to show brands are not icons, but made of people. People who are in this, with us.

Trust and friendships are built in times of difficulty, not times of plenty.

People are already suspicious of marketing. If it doesn’t step up – in a hurry – it’ll be forever seen as irrelevant to real life.

That’ll be the death of it, for sure.

Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.