Now Is Not the Time for Cause Marketing Around Covid-19

Find a way to help without thinking about potential award wins

Driving relevance means driving growth. Join global brands and industry thought leaders at Brandweek, Sept. 11–14 in Miami, for actionable takeaways to better your marketing. 50% off passes ends April 10.

A few people have asked me what makes the coronavirus any different from other cause marketing. Some have suggested that banning Covid-19-related award entries unfairly dismisses campaigns that have a positive influence on consumer behavior around the disaster.

I understand the concern, but not everything is black and white. I have nothing against cause marketing at all. In fact, I’m a pretty big fan of it when it’s done right. “Boost Your Voice” is one of my favorite campaigns of all time. But that’s under normal circumstances, and these are not normal circumstances at all.

Campaigns like the one from Boost Mobile that are creative, effective, on tone and on brand take a lot of time to accomplish. The Covid-19 crisis is changing not by the week or day but by the hour. We don’t have time to sit around and plan things out. Supplies are needed now, and rushing a creative campaign rarely produces good results. It’s a race against time, and when your brand is screwing around with celebrities or taking a stance, it sends a pretty clear message you’ve got the wrong priorities in mind.

What you have is wasted time, resources and money. And from what we’ve seen so far, none of the current creative Covid-19 campaigns have accomplished anything. The risks of losing time and getting it wrong are too high in health marketing, especially in these circumstances. If you haven’t noticed, people are scared.

The best thing to do is really just tell brands and marketers to not focus on those creating a new campaign and instead do something to help.

When every human is struggling and small businesses are failing, we’re looking at the big guys for help. We see what fellow brands are doing by donating millions and moving supply chains to manufacture necessary goods, and we’re taking notice.

At the end of the day, it’s pretty clear we need three things: supplies (specifically medical and sanitary), monetary funding everywhere and easing the financial burden on consumers.

We know what works. It’s those three things. And we need them tomorrow. We need them today.

Clear and concise messaging and information from the WHO and CDC is also pertinent, and it makes sense if brands want to get creative with that. But because the circumstances of this are so drastic for everything from lives to the economy, we’re walking on eggshells. It’s best to keep the more entertaining stuff up to influencers and individual creators and provide the information exactly as the CDC and WHO asks as a brand.

That’s why we need to send a message to marketers and brands that are seeking industry recognition during this crisis that Cannes, One Show, Clios and all the rest should be the last thing you’re thinking of.

I’m not an anti-awards guy at all. I’m actually a big fan of some of the companies behind them, too. I’ll admit I owe a lot of my success to the educational programs and networking resources offered to students and young professionals through these companies.

What it comes down to is that most awards are based on creativity. If you look at your average case study, most define their success by engagements, earned media, impressions and profits. And that’s not what we’re trying to do here. We can’t solve this problem creatively. At least, not right now.

Hospitals need supplies; changing your logo or coming up with a catchy tagline isn’t going to help. Manufacturing necessary goods or donating money may not be an award-winning approach, but it’s exactly the approach we need right now.

Is it possible to accomplish a creative, award-worthy campaign around the Covid-19 pandemic that hits all the right notes and has a positive impact? Sure, maybe. But we have to consider the situation we’re in as brands. The fact of the matter is people already don’t trust big brands, even in cause marketing because one little mistake can come off as self-serving. It’s a challenge on a normal given day, and the Covid-19 situation only accelerates the odds stacked against us.

I know big brands are struggling financially, too, but the average person doesn’t care how a big, rich corporation is suffering. They’re worried about getting their electricity shut off or losing someone they know. The odds against making a successful creative campaign around this are staggeringly higher than normal. For every campaign that might succeed, you have 100 cringe-worthy ones behind it, wasting time, money and resources. The time constraints here are insanely high, too. The best thing to do is really just tell brands and marketers to not focus on those creating a new campaign and instead do something to help.

At the end of the day, there are endless opportunities out there to win awards and do creative cause marketing. This doesn’t need to be one of them. It’s too risky.

As soon as this is all over, we can all get back to our award-worthy briefs, trolling our competitors, pulling stunts and all that fun stuff. For now, just do what you can to help. Do it with your families, friends, lives and futures in mind. Because those are the stakes.