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How to navigate marketing during unprecedented National and International events

Consumer expectations have led the way for marketing strategies, and brands have had to become extremely agile over the last year to align. The death of Queen Elizabeth II was yet another event that changed the landscape of marketing, with many brands shifting their marketing strategies to align with their customers’ expectations. Some advertisers have paused advertising activity in order to show respect, some making comment to be part of the current discourse. Reports show that most consumers think brands making tribute to the Queen are motivated more by PR than a sincere desire to pay tribute, so, this can be a difficult line to tread.

Many brands planned to pay their respects during the Queens passing; with top retailers and supermarkets including, Sainsburys, John Lewis, Tesco, Primark, Aldi and Lidl, all deciding to close their stores on the date of the Queen’s funeral. Brands also took to social media to express their condolences. However, some approaches haven’t been well receivedwith almost six in 10 consumers (58%) saying that brand messages about the Queen are more driven by PR reasons than a sincere desire to pay respects, with only 28% thinking it’s likely these messages are heartfelt. Changing messaging to align with political affairs for a brand may cost them their integrity, especially if these brands hadn’t made a stance on the affair before it became a hot topic.

Media response has been equally similar – broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 4 paused their advertising on the day of the funeral. BBC, ITV, and Channel 4  broadcasted the state funeral live and uninterrupted. Channel 4 and ITV also paused their in-programme ads within their online watch on-demand services.

Marketers must be cautious when following current news cycles and applying it their marketing approach, and consider whether jumping on the bandwagon will benefit their brand, or whether their customers will expose the brand as being insincere. Twitter account GrieveWatch gained over 90K followers by posting the bizarre “displays of patriotic grieving” shown by brands, including a carved “mourn melon” displayed in a shop window, and a gigantic Poundland-funded billboard on the M6.

As a brand, you need to consider the following:

  • Has your brand expressed an opinion on the topic before? Would it seem out of character to do so now?
  • Do your customers align with the opinion you’d like to put forward as a brand?
  • Would it be seen as inappropriate for the products you sell to be seen alongside this political stance (e.g. there was uproar when the brand Anne Summers published a message of condolences for the Queen’s passing)

All of these are important considerations to avoid alienating (or angering) your existing customer base. Unless you’re prepared to centre a large portion of your marketing strategy to support the political stance you’re communicating, it’s often better to stay silent.  Brands  must ensure respect to the subject matter is given, and gain audience insights to add a positive contribution to the discourse.