It's a time for solidarity. The team of 5 million staring Covid in the corona and saying 'yeah, nah'.
But now that every brand from my lawn care supplier to toothpaste have taken the opportunity to tell me they're here for me in these uncertain times, I wonder if this really all we want from our brands; and as brands, is this really all we can offer New Zealand? Like well-wishers after a personal misfortune, I see a long queue of faces unseen for years now coming to offer their "all-the-bests", "stay-safes" and "she'll-be-rights".
I'm sure these thoughts are authentic, and I'm not suggesting such actions from brands are disingenuous, but it's a wallpaper bandwagon with little value to New Zealand and even less value to your brand. Yes, the sentiments in current advertising are genuine human responses, but how can this stand out among the wellspring of it from every corner of your life?
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Brands need memorability, memorability needs difference, difference demands risk.
It's time for some new messages. Confident points of view from the next collection of brands who can bring real emotional value through levity and perspective to cut through the earnest duvet of under-thought thoughtfulness.
We're waiting for that mate who turns up with a burger and a "well-you're-screwed-up-lol"; for that cathartic release of pent up concern and further rejuvenation of the soul.
When international observers comment on our resilience they refer to our independence, our country-wide sense of community and our national character. Our sense of humour is a core pillar of this character. So often regarded as just an enjoyable wrapping for entertainment value, but this devalues the role of our humour as a genuine source of national strength and resilience. This is mirrored in the response; laughter isn't a social lubricant, it's an important psychological mechanism.
Monro's theory of humour outlines the psychological roles of humour that all sound eerily relevant.
Firstly, laughter is a release of psychological tension. Ever find yourself laughing at almost anything when under extreme stress? When a touch of mania takes over? And after, your mind is clearer and ready to go again? In a situation beyond our control, this pressure needs to go somewhere and it vents itself through humour. "If you don't laugh you'll cry" is cliché. But like most clichés, it's built on truth.
Laughter is also how our minds respond to incongruity; conflicting ideas mixed together, absurdity, or hard to process situations. Who doesn't love a clever pun or turducken (the most delicious of portmanteaus)? Overlapping notions disparate until this one moment in time when woven together.
Finally, laughter creates a comforting sense of elevation over things or people. It gives us a feeling of control and power, especially over those things that threaten us. Who laughs at whom (or what) sets a hierarchy. From schadenfreude to a pie in the face, this is the mechanism at work.
Bizarre situations that are hard to process? Feeling powerless against a faceless foe? Psychological tension? This all sounds rather familiar.
Good thing we have such a great sense of humour. Kiwis themselves are showing us the way with their social media antics. And they're reaching out for comedy. Thinkbox in the UK looked at changes in viewing patterns and found a 40 per cent increase in viewership of comedy during the lockdown compared to the same time last year.
We need levity, but with the notable exception of the New Zealand Police force who continue to show how Kiwi humour and serious subject matter can go hand in hand, the rest of New Zealand's brands seem stuck in a cul-de-sac of paternal hand-holding and thinly veiled self- congratulation.
Why is this? Because humour takes risk. It demands craft. It requires a point of view not just a platform. And because there's a deep-seated misconception that having fun with a topic suggests that it isn't being taken seriously - but in truth, humour has often been our first way to deal with important yet difficult subjects.
Now there are good jokes and bad jokes, I'm certainly not suggesting humour makes all things permissible nor do I subscribe to Ricky Gervais' philosophy that "nothing is off the table" but brands have a cultural role to play and we need to explore beyond the obvious.
So often we buy brands to create an emotional lift. Is this no longer true? Are we in any less need of the distinct cultural roles our favourite brands play? Does this situation mean all brand strategies and personalities converge?
No. It doesn't.
So as the short, sharp distress matures into a deeper disquiet let's reach for our ultimate cultural cure and have a laugh so that while science beats the virus we fight its shadowy malaise.
Odes to fast food. Trademe listings for stockpiled toilet paper. Quarantenials.
2020: The sourdough apocalypse is upon us. Let's have some fun with it.
- David McIndoe is the chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi NZ.