Do brands REALLY care?
Revisiting compassionate marketing in a post-pandemic world
A couple of years ago, I wrote about compassionate marketing using Bloom & Wild’s opt-out of Mother’s Day emails as an example of a brand that was leading the way with customer-first marketing.
Since then, many brands have hopped on the bandwagon and it’s become quite common for them to ask if we want to receive Mother’s Day emails. Here are two I found in my own inbox after a quick search…
I also found a historic email from Waterstones about Father’s Day, thus showing that this trend has moved to cover both days.
This is becoming a more common activity for brands, and I do still think it’s a good idea. However, it does make me wonder about these brands’ intentions and whether we can ever really trust a company to be compassionate.
I noticed a couple of people on Twitter mention that they have been asked AGAIN this year to report their email preferences, despite having already told the brands involved not to send them Mother’s Day communications in previous years.
If you work in email marketing in any capacity, then you’ll know that filtering and tagging preferences are simple facilities offered by pretty much every email management platform, so there’s really no excuse for brands ‘forgetting’ your preferences year on year. It’s as easy as ticking a box.
So, this makes me think that they haven’t put genuine time and effort into ensuring that this ‘we let you opt-out because we care’ strategy sticks. Call me cynical, but it might be that these companies are simply on the hunt for the kudos that comes with activities like this.
Back in 2019, Bloom & Wild received insurmountable positive press following their decision to allow customers to opt out of Mother’s Day emails, and even the likes of Very.co.uk and Pandora have since ridden this wave of good PR.
On a side note, in the article linked above you’ll see that luggage brand Away has even used the number of people who have opted-out (4,000) as a headline figure for their press release. That feels a bit icky if you ask me - scoring points on what are often personal traumas.
Curating what you see (to an extent)
Equally, there are still so many ways in which we cannot avoid certain marketing materials that may be triggering to us. For example, I have been hit with a relentless number of unskippable YouTube ads this week for card and flower companies. And during a quick visit to Sainsbury’s, I spotted a giant point-of-sale promoting flowers, chocolate and other seasonal gifts that all mothers will love.
While we cannot curate every part of our lives to avoid potentially upsetting things, we can let brands know that we don’t want to see their pesky marketing during this time of the year. On YouTube, you can click the tiny ‘i’ and request to no longer see an advert (unfortunately this is only for one ad at a time and not any theme or keyword.)
On Facebook and other social media platforms, you can click “more info” or “Why am I seeing this?” and request to remove yourself from the target audience of this promotion. Again, I don’t know how effective this is should the company go on to launch another campaign or promote the same or similar activity on another occasion.
Other, more experimental techniques such as Chrome extensions/plug-ins that hide certain terms and topics are also available but I haven’t tried them.
On the flipside of all the unwanted ‘incoming’ brand messaging, how do we even get our message across to brands about these events? If we don’t tell brands what we do and don’t want to see, how can they know what’s best for their audience? And do they even want to listen? Many brands still fail to offer opt-outs or feedback forms that actually make a difference.
It’s easy to forget that some brands, especially those with a really friendly tone of voice, are just in the market to make money. In some ways, however, it’s that focus on cold, hard cash that gives us a route to communicating our preferences.
Voting with your dollar
Customers care more than ever how they spend their money, and one wrong step can even break a business that’s spent years building a dedicated following. Whether that comes as a result of a misplaced comment from a co-founder or accepting investment from a company that completely goes against your customers’ values, many people will choose to shop elsewhere if a company lets them down. Weirdly enough, both of the linked examples are oat milk companies, so I’m not sure what’s going on there.
(Note from Craig on the oat milk thing: it seems to me that the businesses that try to market themselves with ‘woke’ messages and values are often the most tone-deaf and likely to sell out. See Brewdog for a dumpster fire of an example. Genuinely compassionate brands tend not to have to shout about how compassionate they are.)
As consumers, many of us choose to spend with brands that we feel reflect our values and there is a significant feeling of disappointment when a company we thought was one of the good ones betrays us - you’ll still see myriad comments about the Blackstone investment on Oatly’s tweets even though it’s been a couple of years since they took the cash.
I think what brings the two ideas presented here together is the question of whether a brand’s marketing truly matches its intentions. Are the company’s morals in line with the marketing spiel? It’s the age-old tale of brands promoting International Women’s Day whilst paying their female staff less than their male counterparts, or even outsourcing work to sweatshops in developing countries in which the workforce is majority female and there are no maternity or parental rights on offer.
As more brands start to recognise that there is money in being good, the more scrutiny we must place around their true intentions. Who owns the company? From where do they receive investment? Sure, they accept that the customers might not want to receive emails about mother’s day, but do they offer their staff paid bereavement leave should they need it?
If we only bought from companies that perfectly aligned with our morals, we’d probably starve, but that’s not to say we should give up and accept the status quo.
If you are among those who don’t want to receive Mother or Father’s Day emails - for whatever reason - how do these communications make you feel? And do you ever find yourself choosing one brand over another for a moral reason that probably has absolutely nothing to do with their product?
And, of course, it’s important to recognise that having the ability to choose between multiple brands is a privilege in itself. Fast fashion is terrible for the environment and the people who make the clothes, however, for some people shopping at George, Primark and Matalan are all they can afford.
So, there’s a lot to mull over in today’s newsletter. Compassionate marketing is still very much a thing but the more brands that jump on the bandwagon, the closer we need to look at their intentions and what goes on behind the scenes.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this over on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a chat!
📚 Sistersong by Lucy Holland - A beautifully written retelling of a folk ballad, Sistersong started slow but quickly swept me up in its world of kings, witches and magic.
🎥 Fresh (Disney+) - Daisy Edgar-Jones of Normal People returns to our screen in this not-for-the-faint-hearted dark horror comedy alongside Marvel and Pam & Tommy star Sebastian Stan. This was by no means a perfect flick but a canny watch on a Friday night, I recommend waiting 'until after you’ve finished your tea to pop it on, though.
That’s all from me this week! See you next Wednesday with more musings on topics that are important to me, including but not limited to: mental health, work/life balance, internet culture, and much more.
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Ellen Kate Boyle | Content By The Sea @contentbytheseaAnd somehow, my newsletter is two! 🎂🎉😭 Reflecting on the past and thinking about the future in today's edition of Conversations By The Sea. https://t.co/AQZT0W1T2S
Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:
16th March: The future of this newsletter
9th March: Don’t shoot the messenger
2nd March: How to stay informed without going mad
23rd February: This is how it’s always been
16 February: You can only do your best
26 January: The way to a person’s heart
19 January: How do you work?
12 January: Being a morning person is overrated
5 January: Treading lightly into 2022
15 December: How do you compare?
8 December: Lessons on mental health from Henry Cavill