“Tell a real story. Talk like a goddamn real person…stop all the countless bullshit we marketers create to make us sound more important than we really are.”
I wrote that years ago, long before social media became the behemoth it is today, before the 2016 U.S. elections, before global pandemics sent us into our homes desperate for the same human connections that just days prior we took for granted.
Yet despite the very real health threat we now face, despite the anxiety and fear and uncertainty that scars this nascent 21st century, something good may come out of all this. Something that will last long after we adjust to whatever normal life becomes.
I felt it in this raw, moving video from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson. I saw it in Dyson’s ingenious creation of ventilators, in U-Haul’s decision to provide free storage to displaced college students, and in LVMH switching from manufacturing perfume to making hand sanitizer:
The end of bullshit.
NOW LET’S BE CLEAR: it’s not like some won’t still try to use bullshit any chance they get.
Bad habits are hard to break after all. I’m sure you’ve received lots of “your safety is our priority” emails from companies that also want you to keep buying stuff even if it means leaving your house (“gee thanks, my dream vacation just got cancelled and I’m afraid I’ll be dead within the month, but good to know I can still get 30 percent off.”)
Or how about this poetic message from Barnes & Noble:
We’re living through turbulent times together. Our booksellers are your neighbors, your friends and family. Your stories are our stories, and we know how resilient our communities are.
The Booksellers of Barnes and Noble
Yes, oh faithful Booksellers of Barnes & Noble, these are turbulent times. Also there are people dying, millions without jobs and countless others about to go homeless and hungry. But you know how resilient we are, so it’s all good.
Even when some brands actually try to do the right thing, they can’t help but fall back on the bullshit marketing practices of the past.
Popeyes Chicken thought it would help out in this time of crisis by offering its Netflix login credentials to the first 1,000 people who posted photos of themselves eating Popeyes, and then tagging their fun photos with #ThatPasswordFromPopeyes (#ThatsALongStupidHashtag.) Never mind that the promotion’s name, Fried Chicken and Chill, is a slang expression telling people to eat fried chicken and then have sex. Not the worst suggestion anyone has ever made, but still creepy.
The point is the promotion didn’t hurt Popeyes. They wanted the gain without any pain.
There has to be some semblance of sacrifice; not just donations but actions. If we’re in this together, then we actually need to be in this together. For example, Popeyes competitor KFC is providing weekend meals for kids to keep them from going hungry — a relatively simple gesture with real human impact.
Consumers don’t want marketing campaigns, they want empathy. They want brands to care because it’s the right thing to do, not because the brand expects something in return.
They want more CEOs like Delta’s Ed Bastian, who updates his customers without pretentious buzzwords and is honest about the state of the business; who plans to institutionalize new cleaning and safety procedures for the long term, and who puts his employees’ safety and financial security first.
If you need a teleprompter and a script to connect with people, then you don’t know how to connect with people.
MARKETERS CAN’T GO BACK TO THE WAY THINGS WERE. That world no longer exists, and consumers won’t tolerate insincerity anymore.
Even the way people interact with each other has been freed from bullshit. We no longer care that our dogs jump on our laps during a client call, or that our colleagues might discover that our blonde hair is really brown. We are more real in the digital world than we ever were in the physical.
Digital has always been about sociology, not technology; about people and empowerment. The more socially distant we are (or “physically distant” to be more accurate), the more we need to connect – and thanks to digital, we can be a part of it all without being apart from it all.
Of course bullshit will always be with us in some form; we need evil so we can appreciate the good. Nevertheless, we had a revolution this month, a revealing marketing revelation of epic proportions. It was a coup of the best kind, and a message to all those who would defy the will of the people that their time is over. The world is forever changed, and so is marketing.