One Sick Culture
Monday, May 4, 2009
Someone call a doctor. Swine flu (hysteria) is spreading. Newspapers are dying. Automobile companies are on life support. Mutants draw box office millions, as marketers engineer the next viral video. The U.S. economy sneezed, and the world collapsed. Politicians scrambled to resuscitate. And our climate is clearly running a temperature. Disease is America's metaphor du jour, and brand managers best check their vitals.
Our healthiest brands have diagnosed this infatuation with illness and are responding in kind. Apple’s new HAZMAT ad is the third to invoke Mac’s resistance to computer viruses, and for consumers looking to track H1N1, there’s an app for that. IBM’s Smarter Math promises to “stop a pandemic” and “predict mutations,” while Google funds research and monitors web queries to recognize potential global outbreaks. And our sitting chief executive ran as a post-partisan “healer” bringing healthcare to all.
These leading brands demonstrate the importance of reading and responding to the zeitgeist. A few treatment options for ailing brands to consider:
- First, Do No Harm - New approaches can be beneficial, but beware the snake oil salesman. A creative director promising instant attention through an "edgy" new campaign is pushing a placebo at best. At worst, a poison pill. And regardless of what that design firm says, a facelift is never a simple procedure. Just ask Tropicana.
- Heal Thyself - Align your practice with your preaching. If you promise quality, make sure you hire quality.
- Improve Your Bedside Manner - Industry jargon intimidates and confuses. Speak clearly, frankly and honestly. In today's economy, it's easy for consumers to feel depressed, so provide hope and comfort. Don't focus on the bad news. Find the positive, or present a new path forward.
- Make House Calls - Social media helps brands observe and communicate with customers on their terms and in their environment, not a sterile focus group. Listen closely. You'll get important clues about consumer behavior, and they'll tell you exactly what's wrong.
Our infatuation with disease and illness may be little more than hypochondria, but it continues to shape perceptions, behaviors and dialogue. Brand managers must find ways to empathize and communicate their brand's value in light of this cultural context, or they risk losing consumers to competitors offering a second opinion.