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October 13, 2020

By: Jason Gitlin, Associate Creative Director, RAPP SF

It’s clear that society is at a crossroads between what might be right for the individual and what is necessary for the collective. I’m sure you’ve seen people in crowded indoor spaces without masks or using them improperly as well as individuals who choose not to wear masks.

Like never before, this is the time of the individual — at our peril or our perseverance. And it’s what we choose to do as individuals in our collective whole that will determine our future. The spreading pandemic (and our potential to further spread it) makes each one of our individual choices capable of affecting us all. This truth has found its way into how brands act as well.

Most of us are a little off-balance these days, and brands are also walking a bit of a tightrope. Stepping back from the marketplace may have been the first instinct, but just as our individual physical health is paramount, so is our economic health. Brands need to market. But how do they strike the right balance between commerce and conscientiousness?

Advertisers should realize by now that the lines have blurred between one-to-one and one-to-many marketing. The seismic shift in the way brands are marketing shows us that it’s both individual and collective at the same time — a continuum between one-to-one and one-to-many marketing — and successful brands need to live where the individual and the collective merge.

Making the Connection

At its core, RAPP is about marketing to the individual. As we saw the shifting marketplace back in March, our strategists quickly developed recommendations for how the brands we serve can respond. After a creative audit, they analyzed how brands were immediately reacting in market. And through consumer sentiment research, they surfaced top concerns and expectations given the crisis.

Not surprisingly, they found that consumers want to regain control more than before and that they expect not only safety from the products and services they use, but that brands should also get involved and make a positive impact.

In their creative audit, they recognized how brands are successfully adapting through acknowledgment of what the current situation demands by addressing healthy social interactions, broaching the needs of the working-from-home consumer, and staying positive in the face of stress and uncertainty.

They recommended the following for brands:

  • Find the right tone in your brand voice. Even if your brand is always the loudest voice at the party, it’s time for your inside voice.
  • Promote what your product can do to help. And if you can’t focus on a benefit, express your brand’s humanity to make an individual connection.
  • Continue to communicate. Just because we stay indoors a lot doesn’t mean we’re not consumers anymore. Keep the conversation going, and if you can, be part of the solution.

These recommendations have guided us through the development of creative and helped us find a new way to approach direct response that truly lives up to our credo of always being fiercely individual.

Blurring the Lines

The scramble to address the immediately unexpected cultural change in the first few months of lockdown and the daily discussions about how to address it — in the current work in market, as well as the work in development and future campaigns — revealed one obvious insight: There is no one right way for a brand to address the changing needs of consumers, especially when it comes to CMR and direct response.

One of our client’s initial reactions, after much deliberating, was to pause their work in market and in development so they could step back and assess the best way forward. What they then chose to do revealed an insight into the possibilities for direct response messaging strategies. Direct has always been about the offer, but the ubiquitous uncertainty, the market volatility, and erupting unemployment made staying in market with a monetary offer feel out of touch.

The brand chose to frame the offer in terms of personal, rather than monetary value. The assumption we’ve always made in direct response is that the bigger the number, the lower the rate, the more attractive the price, the better the offer. Those assumptions don't take into consideration the new reality that marketers face.

The move away from a monetary offer shows that work that puts individual needs first can work in direct response messaging strategies. We’ve always divided the work between brand/upper funnel and direct/lower funnel — work that addressed specific features and benefits was the realm of the upper, while work that promoted monetary offers went into the lower. This work blurs the lines.

Moving forward, the line between the upper and lower funnel will be a matter of where the work is deployed — not what it says or what the message is. A direct offer in the lower funnel can be about benefits. It can appeal to the individual’s needs in a more intimate, immediate way. And it’s not just the channel that determines whether it’s truly one-to-one; it’s the creative, too. We need to tap into what is most meaningful as well as what’s valuable.

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