In his latest B&T column (see rant), industry rabble-rouser Robert Strohfeldt says there are lots of lessons to be had (for brands and advertisers) in the media’s reporting of COVID-19…
It would be stating the obvious that not only our society, but much of the western world is in a state of hysteria. People are frightened and confused, businesses have shut down and many will never open their doors again. Not just small businesses, but large household brands as well. Millions of people are out of work.
These are issues with which people are trying to cope with in the present. The Federal and State governments have run up so much debt in six weeks than my great children will still be paying off it. So, the future is not rosy – “when we flatten the curve in six months, we can start to get back to normal”, is not going to happen.
We will not be getting back to normal in 10 years, let alone six months
Six months ago, if you wanted to write a fictional, futuristic doomsday book, the current situation would be an ideal setting – something so horrific that might, just might happen, but you are writing fiction, so the reader would be safe in the assumption the picture painted would never happen.
It was only last year I said to my two daughters, both in their 20’s, they have never experience and economic slowdown, let alone a recession.
Societally, Australia has not experienced what you could call full-on propaganda for over 75 years (Think Word War 2). Anyone who has worked in communications for say 10 years or more, can attest to the power of the mass media – yes, the media landscape is far more fragmented today than 20 years ago. But if the sum of the parts is all sticking to the same story line, the impact on the population is huge.
Social media has amplified what were once very small minority views – the “no vax’s” is a good example. Or today, toilet paper. Corona impacts the respiratory system. People who die, do so from pneumonia – they do not suffer diarrhoea. These crazy, illogical stampedes are a bit like a bushfire that starts from a spark, which in no time, becomes a raging inferno.
Next, someone, somewhere decided that Ventolin was effective against Corona. In no time, pharmacies had little or no stock for asthma and others who had respiratory problems – these are people who have chronic respiratory problems, not issues bought on by the coronavirus.
People are bombarded with corona news/updates /opinions – irrespective of what medium you go to, be it traditional or online, it dominates.
This is propaganda, dressed up as news. And the adage of “If it bleeds it leads” has stood the test of time and medium.
How can people be expected to stop and think when they are surrounded by panic and mayhem. And to hell with the consequences, the police have not helped. Some are doing the right thing, but many others are not. Sunlight is good for your health. Over a mid to longer term, it is necessary as it provides the best source of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium – necessary for bone growth in children (not enough vitamin D and they develop soft bones, rickets). It is also important for healthy bones in adults and other benefits.
Watching the news, the other night, a guy was reading and sunbathing, no one within hundreds of yards of him. The police drove across the grass to less than a meter from him and told him to go home. This is but one of so many examples. We are turning into a police state.
As one commentator said “We are having a 60 – day free trial of Communism. Shortages, queues and a police state.”
So how necessary is this deluge of corona propaganda that drowns everything out else? Doom and gloom if we do not follow “the expert’s advice”.
So how have other countries responded – we hear the horror stories out of Italy and Spain, but never the whole story behind the extraordinary death toll.
Each year in Australia:
- 300,000 people visit a doctor due to the flu
- 18,000 are hospitalised
- 3,500 die.
Yes, some young people do die. (Everyone’s physiology varies to some degree). But well over 90 per cent of the deaths are amongst older Australians with underlying health problems.
Take out the numbers from the cruise ship, Ruby Princess, which has contributed close to one-third of all deaths and 600 infections and ask is the destruction of jobs, lives and the economy justified?
If there were no other options to what “we” are doing, then fine, but there are the options shown by other countries?
Taiwan has a population very close to that of Australia – 24 million. They have not shut down their economy. Things are not what they were like before the pandemic hit, but all strictly follow social distancing and wear “proper” masks (like the millions of ones we exported just before this hit), they have not shut down businesses, even gyms remain open.
Cases of Corona – 334
Number of Deaths – 5
(Singapore and South Korea also have extremely low figures in comparison to western countries).
But then there is New York. One commentator said, “Corona is killing New Yorkers in numbers Osama bin Laden could only dream of”
Of course, every life is precious. But the number of deaths in Taiwan is close to insignificant in comparison to western countries, particularly Italy and the US.
The reason for these massive differences – Societal behavioural norms.
The effect of societal behavioural differences is immense, though it can be explained very simply – Asian countries, in general, have far more respect for and response to authority.
The destruction of our economy, families torn apart due to stress, the impact on the mental health of so many (suicides will more than likely claim more lives than the virus), millions of people unemployed – the damage to our society cannot be understated. And added to the immediate fear is the fear of what the future holds. People are not idiots. They know this debt won’t just go away. It will be hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles for generations.
The damage the panicked reaction to this pandemic has and will cause, is beyond anything we have ever faced. The Great Depression will be a mild recession in comparison. For the first time since entering public life back in the 90’s, Pauline Hanson said something I agree with “Most of these small businesses will never open their doors again”.
When Ansett went bust, I was still flying each month to Adelaide to see a client. QANTAS, the only airline operating, charged $880 economy return. Virgin entered the market and the same trip was $180. I saved $9,600 a year just on Adelaide trips. (The cost eventually went up to around $280, still a saving of $600 a month.)
How many people who regularly grocery shop have noticed the sharp increase in prices? “It is because of corona,” said the Coles manager. Not packing your bags was due to health concerns, even though they had to touch the bloody items to put through the scanner. Less staff, but higher prices.
I am not one for conspiracy theories – 9/11 was a Jewish/US government “plot”. Right? So, one US president cannot get a quiet blow job on the side without the world finding out, but another can blow up New York’s twin towers and fly a plane into the Pentagon and get away with it?
The power of what we do – propaganda is immense. Is it time for all of those in the “propaganda” business to start asking questions?
There is one thing marketers and advertisers can do – encourage their clients to keep spending. Sounds crazy? It has been proven time and time again. After the 1929 – 1933 Great Depression and more recently the 1987 crash, the early 90s recession, the 2000 dot com bubble burst and the 2008 GFC – companies that kept advertising came out of the slump rocket propelled in comparison to those who “shut up shop”. (Of course, they must be able to afford to do so, but well -run businesses will have the necessary reserves)
If we are to have any chance of getting out of this mess, it will be on the backs of a strong economy. “But how will people buy anything if they don’t have jobs?” If those with money, and there will be quite a few, open their purse strings then jobs will be created. But they will only do this if companies are advertising – “deals” will be mandatory to get the ball rolling. Margins may be squeezed, as people will need to be offered a genuine deal, but 90 per cent of something is worth a lot more than 100 per cent of fuck all.
Think of the Monty Python film The Life of Brian. As far as the eye could see, there were poor bastards on a cross and in unison they sang, “Always look on the bright side of life”.
Show the proof (not hard to find) to your clients that advertising during recessions pays back far greater than “normal times” – the good marketers will know this already. The idiots, which has been an unfortunate side effect of the digital era, will hopefully be replaced – natural selection is not confined to nature.
Creativity will be in high demand. But the more we (and by that, I mean our clients) can be positive, the more it will have a positive impact on the dread and fear which all media feeds on. Back in the days of newspapers only, it was common knowledge that bad news sold more publications, hence the line “If it bleeds it leads”. The media landscape has changed dramatically, but the basics have not.