WPP AUNZ’s Rose Herceg says brands need to be clear or ‘shut-up’ amid latest COVID flare-up

With millions of Australians now in lockdown, and the ongoing controversy over the vaccine rollout and promotion, consumers are increasingly scared and confused.

In the middle of this, brands and marketers have to find their way and not go dark, and completely drop their communications and messaging, according to the head of strategy for agency group WPP AUNZ.

WPP’s chief strategy officer, Rose Herceg reveals what brands need to do in order to survive amid the pandemic

Chief strategy officer, Rose Herceg spoke to ABC’s health expert, Dr Norman Swan, Pereira O’Dell’s creative director, Simon Friedlander, along with Dr Julie Leask from the University of Sydney during a webinar titled: What COVID has revealed about the real Australia?

“Aussies are all over the place,” said Herceg. “When you look at the mood of the nation, they’ve got so many people coming at them. Local government, state government, federal government, marketers, brands, you name it, it’s a free-for-all.

“What tends to happen with Australians when we’re coming at them with 85,000 different messages is that they just shut-out to everything. They’re over it, they’re exhausted. They’re exhausted with the federal versus state government. They’re exhausted with state versus local government. They’re exhausted with the turf wars of Victoria versus New South Wales.”

According to market research cited by Herceg, the sentiment of the population is such that if you are going to communicate with the population, be very clear about what you’re going to communicate, or “shut up” .

“There’s a lesson in there for all of us. Speak with clarity, have a clear voice, know what your message is. If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t speak. Australian’s want clear messages, that make sense, that are thoughtful, that are direct, and if you cannot do that then don’t do anything.”

Herceg added that if wanting to keep a brand alive in a market place which is changing so rapidly, marketers need to be very clear about what they are doing and what they are offering.

“The advice we are giving brands, is to be very clear what benefit your brand or your business gives to the community. Don’t speak in generality. If you have a really important service that you’re providing, make sure that they’re clear on their messaging.

“We are not telling anyone to go dark, what we are saying is that if you’re putting your brand out into the community, whatever media channel you select just be very clear about what you’re doing and what you’re offering.”

Additionally, Herceg said that brands and companies have to have a “sense of humour” about the current climate and the pandemic.

“We need to remember that there is a humanity to everything every Australian is going through right now. People are uncertain, people are unsure, people don’t want to leave their homes because they don’t know if they’ll be safe or not. It’s important that brands are using human language.

“We tell our brands that they have to connect with the audience on a human level. Think about what services you provide that they really need, and give it to them in a thoroughly-Australia way. The brands that are doing that are doing incredibly well. Going dark is not the answer, figuring out how you can be of service during this time and what your company/brand can offer, that’s the answer for every brand.”

Pereira O’Dell’s creative director, Simon Friedlander

Friedlander, who was behind the US vaccination campaign added: “What we tried to do was have a single, unifying message that everyone talked about and could resonate with and was clear messaging versus creating a lot of noise and confusion with multiple campaigns.”

Additonally, Friedlander said that there is a fine line when you’re talking about tying to use humour to get a message across, it’s all about creating that lighter tone-of-voice.

“If you look at campaigns in New Zealand, and what they did, they kept it light-hearted, upbeat, and positive. The idea isn’t to make people laugh-out-loud, slapstick-type stuff, it’s really disarming people and opening them up to that conversation. In the Australian market, I think people are very open to seeing content that is off the same tone as New Zealand’s campaign.”

Leask added: “I’ve done 270 media interviews since last year, and when you know so much on a certain topic, it’s hard to be crystal clear with the messaging.

“We need a reset with our vacine comms at the moment, becasue we’ve got so many different messages, people pulling you different directions, programmatic reccomendations based on rish issues and balances. We need all the help we can get.”

Meanwhile, Herceg went on to explain that the channel mix has changed in the current environment and brands and marketers need to look to one-to-one media.

“Look at the out-of-home (OOH) businesses. The OOH businesses have had to change a lot in the last 18 months, because we are just simply not out in the world. So, finding your target audience is key.

“CRM and EDMs, through social channels, the brands that are really applying the kind of media that happens to you directly, one-to-one, are cleaning up. They’re doing incredibly well. Mass marketing and mass media, not so much. It’s really understanding where the audiences are and how to connect through them.

“We are advising all of our brands to relook all of their media plans, and to figure out where their audiences are, and then go there.”


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