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  • Glenn Kessler

“In these uncertain times”… the problem with current messaging

Empathy… the most competitive product of the COVID-19 era. Advertisers are promoting messaging as a way to connect through phrases like “you are not alone,” “the new normal,” “we are with you,” “times of uncertainty,” “not knowing what the future holds,” blah, blah, blah. While one hopes these communication efforts are of good nature, it avoids a pressing consumer question: “What can you do for me?”

Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same

In these uncertain times (apologies for reusing the phrase), comfort comes from facts and actions. And as you can see in this parody reel of current ads, a lot of the same messages are being conveyed across the board. No brand stands out since each ad is like the last, ultimately causing the messages to not appear sincere or meaningful.

I have often thought during the holiday season that advertisers are part of one long, redundant Santa Clause, reindeer, and/or smiling children-filled reel. The oversaturation of holiday ads likely lacks gaining the attention of consumers by making them numb to messaging. Advertisers are selling Christmas “cheer,” hoping the holiday halo will extend to their brand. However, consumers do not buy cheer; they buy presents. I often wondered how strongly cheer compels consumers to by a product from an advertiser.

I assume research exists regarding whether “cheer” sells. I am sure that some dissertation in marketing or psychology has addressed it. Speaking as a consumer, with a clutter of empathetic spots running 24 hours a day, who is the beneficiary?

The consumer isn’t. These ads lack information suggesting how the purchase will improve our current predicament caused by COVID-19. Where can I find this, buy that, solve my boredom, protect my body? These important questions and concepts are not advertised. Only platitudes of “we care for you” type sentiments are promoted in hopes that consumers will remember it the next time someone is looking to get a beer, realtor, cell phone or operating system.

Not the advertisers. Since all the ads are selling empathy, advertisers are in the non-differentiated commodity business.

Media wins! They are racking up revenues as the businesses paying their fares hemorrhage.

Some time ago HCD Research conducted a study to measure the impact of the phrase “new and improved” highlighted in bright yellow and visible in a grocery store aisle. We found consumers have learned to not even look at imagery or messaging resembling “new and improved.” Furthermore, consumers avoid the top right corner of the packaging in general. Without including relevant information that’s meaningful to the product, consumers learn to ignore. The conclusion is packaging may actually be better off highlighting a claim like “worse than before” to get the consumer’s attention.

A cliché is a cliché. During this time of COVID, a new set of redundant images, words and phrases are racking up big bucks for media (with minimal production cost since it’s all stock images and little to no creativity or testing). The impact is just as minimal as a Christmas Eve ad with Santa taking a bite of a cookie before leaving for the next house.

“In these uncertain times,” let’s take the opportunity to do better and be more thoughtful about our communications. Make sure you are engaging your consumer in a meaningful way and linking the messaging to your brand.

Perhaps now, more than ever, it’s important to consider your consumer. Do the research. Make sure you understand your consumer and that you are truly helping them in these difficult times.

For more information on how HCD can help you uncover valuable insights into your brand, product, and/or messaging, please reach out to Allison Gutkowski (



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