Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Some brands can't help themselves.
They believe they're so big and important that, any time a major event comes around, they need to insert themselves into it. Even when that major event is horrific, like the coronavirus Covid-19.
But in marketing, stopping and thinking can be wiser than being first to action.
McDonald's chose to market a splitting of the arches on its logo--the idea came from Brazil--as a spur to social distancing. It was very pretty. Perhaps it might win creative awards.
But then there are actual consumers whose lives have been completely altered by the virus.
To some of them, the McDonald's ad looked like vacuous self-promotion for a brand leader. Or, even worse, a lecture.
Soon, the burger chain was inundated with suggestions that perhaps a bigger priority might be to actually help or perhaps pay its employees sick leave. Even Senator Bernie Sanders chipped in on Twitter.
Another sample Twitter comment went like this:
I don't want your cute logo play McDonalds. I want you offering a million free meals to those in need. I want you turning your drive thru into safe testing sites.
It got so bad that McDonald's was forced to apologize.
Enter Burger King.
It decided to offer something practical. Free kids' meals, for example.
Only then did it communicate with customers in something like its usual, playful way.
Perhaps one of the more wittily thoughtful pieces of communication came from its French arm. It offered a way to make a Whopper, while you wait for the original to become available again.
Or, at least, something resembling a Whopper. Burger King called it the Quarantine Whopper and it involved going to the store and buying the basic ingredients that would at least tide customers over.
En attendant l'original. pic.twitter.com/BehZf0qBFQ-- Burger King France (@BurgerKingFR) March 30, 2020
Instead of lecturing from on high, Burger King chose to do something practical first, understand customers' current feelings, and then offer at least a temporary solution.
Fernando Machado, the chain's worldwide CMO, explained the thinking like this to Adweek:
I think that before jumping on ads, brands need to take action. There are lots of good examples of brands helping people via concrete actions that help communities. In times like this, we all need to help.
Machado believes--and it's worth remembering that Burger King's marketing has been far more assured than that of McDonald's for years--that only by doing practical good first can a brand maybe justify subsequent ads or promotions. And it's only a maybe.
It really depends on what type of brand you have, the situation in the country you are considering to advertise, among others. I would recommend a good dose of common sense before doing anything.
In this case, even though the Quarantine Whopper ad itself is true to the brand's challenger wit and offering something useful, it only came about because Burger King was already active in communities.
For its part, McDonald's seems to be drifting in Burger King's wake. Its U.K. arm just released the recipe for its Sausage and Egg McMuffin sandwich. Yes, so that people can make it at home. Now where might that idea have come from?
This isn't like any other time. People are suffering and frightened.
If you feel the need to make sure your brand stays in their minds, make sure it stays in their minds as having actually helped.