In one of Mr Ritsons’s greatest ever rants (‘The Seven Signs of a Shit Brand Consultant’), he offers the warning about all consultants that ‘If they even say the magic words ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’, throw something heavy at them and ask them to leave’.
As ever, I’ve always thought this was sage advice from marketing’s favourite potty-mouthed professor, particularly when it comes to brands and communications – like most people, I don’t need my washing powder to help me self-actualize thank you very much, particularly if it’s wrapped up as part of some woke brand purpose initiative.
Maslow’s infamous Hierarchy of Needs is now over 70 years old and oft misused - I have been known to roll my eyes with the best of them when it appears in slide decks. However, the last few weeks have certainly led to some personal reflection on just how life changes when some of the fundamentals of day to day life are threatened. So at the risk of upsetting Mr Ritson, is this the one time where it's safe to mention the pyramid?
Like many, when the images first appeared of the tragedy unfolding in Wuhan province, I never imagined it would reach Western Europe in any significant way, let alone impact us to such an extent. I regaled friends and family with memories of the Avian Flu Pandemic in 2003 and how I was still able to work in Asia at the time, receiving generous room upgrades because Bangkok was eerily bereft of tourists.
Looking back through my social media activity, I can see that, even as late as 10th March, my primary concern about the Coronavirus (as we all called it back then before we all got scientific and started referring to it by it’s 'proper' name Covid-19) was that the surprise trip to the Amalfi coast I had bought my wife for her 40th Birthday was inevitably going to be cancelled... First world problems and all that.
Fast forward three weeks and, like many, my concerns are much more fundamental. Will my elderly parents (one in hospital and one on the at risk list) be OK? Will I be able to see my children for whom I have shared custody (yeah, thanks for that gaffe Mr Gove!)? Will there be food on the shelves for us to feed them and, with projects falling like dominos, will I be able to pay the bills? Let alone what appears to have been many people’s primary concern at the thought of impending lockdown – just how are we all going to wipe our bums?!
Somewhat reassuringly from a personal perspective, this wasn’t simply a case of me being lost up my own rear end. Data published by Attest this week showed a significant jump in anxiety from mid March onwards when restrictions started to come into play. For many people the real impact felt like a distant prospect even just a few weeks ago
In the normal run of events, many of us (and probably most of you reading this) are fortunate enough to not have to worry about these base physiological and safety needs. However, I have also found it an interesting time to reflect on what else I have missed about day to day life and which things you realise you could do without. For example, and worryingly for the high street if other many people feel the same, I’ve realised that for all I’ve written about ‘creating retail theatre’ in the past, I could pretty much live without ever going into a shop again; delivery is fine for me thanks very much.
By contrast, I have realised just what a big role sport plays in my life. Watching it both live and on TV, playing it, listening to it in the car, watching my kids play it and talking utter nonsense about it with my mates on WhatsApp groups. The same is true for film and music. Sure I can stream to my hearts content on Netflix, Amazon etc but, as a regular cinema go-er, I’ve missed trips to the cinema. I fully expect the various gigs we had tickets booked for to fall by the wayside following the recent Glastonbury announcement. I could go on adding travel, the bustle of London, finding new restaurants, catching up with friends of family and all sort of things to this list.
The reality is though I am one of the lucky ones. Yes, as a sole employee of a Limited company, I feel aggrieved that I am one of the 5% that the Chancellor’s recent support measures have let slip through the net. However, the photos shared this week of lines being marked on Las Vegas parking lots so that homeless people can safely remain socially distanced bring those troubles into into sharp perspective and, let's be honest, I'm only being asked to make lifestyle sacrifices whilst others are risking their lives daily on the front line to tackle this crisis head on.
It’s worth noting though, as demonstrated by the Attest data, that the country is almost as equally split the impact of Covid 19 as, dare I say it, it was on Brexit. Whilst a third of people have seen little or no impact, at the other end of the spectrum, another third have lost their livelihood completely. So, whilst LinkedIn is currently a gallery of team Zoom calls, for many their concerns are much lower down on Maslow’s infamous pyramid.
I suppose the acid test for all of us is what will we remember then this is all over and the daily routine starts up again as it inevitably will? I’m not going to get into the business of crystal ball gazing but, from a personal perspective, I hope I can remember to spend my time and money on the things that I know leave a hole when they’re not there.
Equally, as a marketer, it would also be nice to think that brands too can learn from recent events. It’s been wonderful to see many brands take a stand over the past fortnight, either through commitments to their employees or by donating skills or resources to the cause but how many will carry this on when the media glare is not so bright and when shareholders are more focused on returns? More than ever brands are going to need to get back to making money to sustain jobs and help get us all back on our feet again but perhaps some of the more useful partnerships we've seen recently could replace some of the more dubious CSR initiatives which sadly still seem all too common?
At this stage though there are just so many unknowns. Will the leisure sector be hit hard as families have found alternative ways to have fun at home or will we all flock to restaurants and cinemas at our first opportunity?
The queues outside fast food drive-throughs on the last night before lock down suggest that some brands may see an inevitable bounce back from this period of enforced deprivation as people crave their first ‘cheeky Nandos’. Sadly, others may simply not be able to survive the next few months of disruption. For those that do, my hope is that we start to see a bit more humility in the way they talk to their audience. Before we put fingers to iMac on that self-aggrandising brand purpose campaign or the glossy PowerPoint about those long-lasting meaningful relationships we’re going to build with our shoppers, perhaps we can think about the role we really play in people’s lives and how we can be genuinely useful?...
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