Credible Compassion and the Crisis Cliché

By now, you’ve acclimatized somewhat to the Covid-19 reality; and, unless your social isolation includes media-isolation, you’ve also heard, and I quote, “we’re all in this together.” Tweets, radio commercials, and politicians all say it – all the time. Indeed, you might even be feeling like it’s all they say!

On this blog, we talk a lot about the importance of empathy in good marketing. Now that our society as a whole is in the midst of a legitimate crisis, it is an even more valid and rational time than usual to practice it. This is just as true of a good business owner, as it is of a good neighbour. Empathy is human, and it is good, but business owner beware, with a new abundance of time to focus on marketing, you must take great care to ensure that the way you demonstrate your empathy doesn’t come off as… well… unempathetic. Or even worse: downright cold and opportunistic.

This blog entry was originally conceived to convey the idea that there is no such thing as down-time. It was going to remind you that a decline in customer interaction and inventory throughput doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. This article was going to talk about how now’s the time to put what’s usually on the back-burner (psst marketing) on the front burner. Of course this is true. It certainly is the time to both expand and deepen your connections with your audience. But something more important occurred to me in writing that blog entry. Namely, while it’s always important to seize opportunity (make lemonade et al) it’s even more important to avoid coming off as opportunistic when people are experiencing real difficulty, are legitimately afraid, and are really hurting.

So, how do you balance 1) expressing a good person’s impulse to be empathic in a situation that merits it, 2) making marketing in-roads with the newfound abundance of time afforded you by negative circumstances, and 3) avoiding the appearance of opportunism.

Striking this balance is easier than you might think. One-word-easy, in fact (especially if you are Ripple Effects Marketing and have no fear of appearing the broken-record on this front).


That’s the one word.

If it’s genuine, then it’s not opportunistic. If you want to err on the side of caution – go one farther and don’t even risk the appearance of being disingenuous. How does one do that? One of the oldest rules in advertising copywriting has got you covered.

Avoid clichés. What is a cliché? Technically speaking, “Avoid them like the plague” is a cliché. But in a broader, slightly less technical sense, “We’re all in this together.” Comes to mind.

You can double down on avoiding the off-putting impression of being disingenuous by following another simple rule.

A big rule in the kind of writing advertising copywriters (secretly) wish they could be doing (novels and screenplays etc.) is “show, don’t tell.”

If you air your typical 30-second radio spot – re-edited to tack on “stay safe!” or “be sure to wash your hands” or “we’re all in this together.” You’re telling – or even worse in a crisis – SELLING.

Show don’t tell. “We have re-deployed our team for increased online and telephone support.” or, “now with curbside pick-up”. Instruct and inform about useful, practical steps you have taken to benefit customers you care about. SHOW you care!

Empty, cookie-cutter statements are the enemy of the marketing inroads you can make. They not only come off as disingenuous, but lazy as well. Wash your hands of them, while conveying what you are actually doing to help. Your genuine empathy will blare like a trumpet through the media noise like the bright note of hope people are looking for right now – and will remember later.