Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Empathy is the new brand mandate. Natch.

My old friend and fellow blogger, Bob Hoffman, aka “The Ad Contrarian,” had a short piece this weekend on The Ad Contrarian Newsletter. If you don’t subscribe, you should. Here.

Bob’s piece cited an article in a magazine I usually only buy for the swimsuit issue, MarketingDive, entitled “PepsiCo Finds Empathy Is New Imperative For Marketers”. Pepsi’s CMO was quoted as saying  “I'm a firm believer that empathy has become the new brand mandate.” 

I don’t have an MBA, and I don’t really know what they teach in MBA school. But after a lifetime in this benighted business, and having labored at technology agencies that prattled on for months about this “new” technology and that “new” technology and they were going to “change everything,” and “disrupt old models,” I have to say this sort of hyperbole sickens me.

In olden times, liars by Draconian judges used to be forced to wear confessional signs. I went looking for photos of examples and shame signing seems not uncommon today.  

It would be a better world if marketers and agencies and politicians and technologists had to shame sign after making their stupid predictions. I can imagine about 20,000 digital advertising people wearing a placard reading, “I SAID TV WAS DEAD.” Or, “I SAID RETARGETING PEOPLE WAS ETHICALLY DEFENSIBLE BECAUSE IT INCREASES CTR BY 1 CLICK PER 1 MILLION.”

In the case of the Pepsi CMO mentioned above, his sign might read, “WHEN IT’S 92 DEGREES OUT, I CLAIMED PEOPLE WOULD RATHER HAVE A GLASS OF EMPATHY THAN A SODA.”

I know most of us in the reality-based community where we understand the ill-effects of social contact in the era of Coronavirus are sheltering in place right now. That said, I wonder what the CMO of Pepsi thinks goes on in his local beanery.

Hi, Dottie. I just mowed the Frobisher’s lawn.

The big one? And around the willow tree?

Yep. Back behind the hydrangeas too.

It’s gotta be 85-degrees out!

Nope. I heard on the AM radio it’s 92! I’m parched, Dottie. Do you have anything cold to drink?

We do, or my name isn’t Dottie Leinenkugel! We have a nice homemade lemonade, the cook’s famous lime rickey…

The lime rickey that won a blue ribbon at the country fair?

One and the same.
And, we can getcha a nice cool glass of clean, smooth empathy!

You have empathy? By gum, that sounds like a brand mandate if I’ve ever heard one.

Tellya what, I’ll put on the ol’ feedbag and have a glass of empathy and a turkey burger well done on a toasted English.

Got it, [YELLS] Tommy T on a Cockney, burn it.
And a glass of ‘I Care About You and the World as a Brand Mandate!”

OK, Dottie.

Thanks, Dottie.

You got it, sport.


Back to my point, or lack of point. I started noticing about 15 years ago that people in advertising, or marketing, or whatever we’re calling it this week, were embarrassed to be in advertising. Not long ago there was a trend where agencies stopped calling themselves agencies. And people stopped doing ads.

No, they would create movements, or experiences, or culture, or empathy. They’d do that while they were interacting, leaning in, and having conversations about the brands that are important to their lives. You know, like Air Wick Solid.

No one knows, dear reader, least of all this world-famous blogger what will happen as the world careens through this pandemic on its way to the even more dire global warming miasma. I do know this.

We’d all be better off being ourselves and doing what we do than putting on airs and pretending we’re saving the world every time we use a paper napkin, fill our car with gasoline or buy a soda.

If you think your life is without purpose and that you can rectify that lacuna via soft-drink advertising, I have no empathy for you. Especially not in the economical two-liter size.

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