The Moral Paradox of Marketing in a Pandemic.

Slide 32
3 min readApr 21, 2020
Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Don’t worry, this isn’t a “capitalism is bad” essay. It is a “capitalism is messy” essay. At our core, we believe that brands can truly bring about good in the world, but the world is a pretty different place these days and it calls for an honest look at what we do and who we are.

If you are like us the past six weeks have been incredibly uncomfortable as marketers. At best, our job is to connect people with goods and services that improve their lives and make the world a better place.

At worst, we sell people stuff they don’t really need with money that they don’t really have to turn a cold profit.

We tell fantastic stories to imbue basic goods and services with emotional meaning in hopes that they ascend a few rungs on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When a life-altering threat levels that hierarchy, we ultimately have two choices: Double down or come clean. Dig deep and pang on the already fatigued heart strings of our emotionally exhausted consumers or draw back and focus on the basic utility our products provide.

Through the viral success of other opportunistic campaigns during times of crisis or pain (ex: AirBnB’s #weaccept Super Bowl commercial, released on the tails of Trump’s Muslim travel ban), we have gotten the idea that every tragic event requires a clever, well-produced response from brands. And if we do it in just the right way, we can actually chalk up a W.

This is not one of those times.

The problem with doubling down during COVID-19 simple; this event is far too big and will go on for far too long and there is a finite number of f**ks people can give.

When our beautifully-crafted stories are pitted against an unprecedented existential danger, people have simply run out of f**ks. They have spent their f**ks on better, more important things like losing their jobs, or feeding their kids, or heaven forbid, the loss of a loved one.

At best you will be ignored, and at worst you will be mocked for being opportunistic and tone deaf.

The second option is to return to your product’s basic intrinsic value, and ask yourself, in all honesty, “how can we be helpful?” If this seems overly simplistic to you, take a look at this chart from the Economist.

Do you think people really care if their toilet paper is the one with the bears or the babies? Absolutely not. Their preferred brand is the brand that they have access to. Do you think consumers are loyal to one video conferencing software over another because one has a beautifully designed app icon? No, they will choose the software that allows them to connect to their loved ones and feel safe.

The moral paradox of marketing in a pandemic is that it forces us to take an honest look at what we do and say, at the levers we pull and the impact we have on the world. If, as the famous media theorist and philosopher Marshall Mcluhan once famously said, “Ads are the cave art of the 2(1st) century,” what does our work say about the world we are living in today?

Slide 32 is a marketing agency with a conscience. We believe that the best marketing a brand can do is contribute to their community. We’re here to help you connect your marketing efforts to create a real positive impact. Connect with us here.



Slide 32

Slide 32 is a marketing agency with a conscience. We help you connect your marketing efforts to your community to create a positive impact. https://www.slide32.