Italy has been a case study for most of 2020. For the impact Covid has had on the country and its economy, for the way it was managed on a national and regional level and, recently, for the way the pandemic has altered the public discourse, specifically marketing and brand communication. Italy was among the first countries in which the collective discourse shifted towards optimism, while still taking the crisis seriously. Brands have found that they can engage users with optimism, while at the same time contributing to promoting correct and responsible behaviour.
Why do we respond to positive language in a crisis
At times as uncertain and downright scary as the one we are currently experiencing, most of us look for messages to get inspired and find answers to current challenges. It’s not just a matter of placating our fears and allaying our doubts, it is also about seeking some form of advice on how to handle complex situations. Many Italian brands have progressively incorporated this level of communication into their brand building, with excellent results.
What really drives engagement? Pessimism…
Engagement is one of the most important indicators of any campaign’s success, particularly when it comes to social media. Social platforms are built to value and reward engagement, which – surprisingly for some – has flooded our feeds with negative comments. Anyone who has watched documentaries such as “The Social Dilemma” knows that negative comments, negative feedback, and negative interactions, in general, can blow up easily in reaction to any content and they tend to do if there is no active moderation. For this very reason, many successful content producers have harnessed the power of negativity and outrage to drive their own engagement and reap substantial profits. How did Italian brands manage to successfully engage users with optimism, at a time when negativity, fear, and rumour-spreading dominated the public discourse?
How do you engage users with optimism?
First and foremost we should be aware of one fundamental reason for brands to want to keep a positive tone throughout their communication: negativity doesn’t sell. Or rather, negativity doesn’t sell products. It can and does sell “characters”, “influencers”, and “social commentators” – which is why so many Youtube personalities thrive on intentional nastiness – but it does not help brands shift their goods, it does not improve brand awareness, and it certainly does not earn customer loyalty. This is not meant to discount any marketing team’s genuine interest in contributing positively to the collective discourse, but simply to acknowledge that this might not have been the primary motivation behind their strategies to engage their users with optimism and positive messages. First and foremost they needed to create a safe and positive space for their users to engage while protecting their brand image. Italian brands put their effort into presenting themselves as part of their customers’ daily life during the lockdown, exploring ways in which the current situation could be made better, by improving individual aspects of our routine, rather than focus on what we could not do. At the same time, they chose to be an active part of the community, with many brands producing PPE alongside their standard goods or initiating campaigns to donate to worthy charities. This has kept the engagement more or less constant, allowing many Italian brands to get through the pandemic with their customer base virtually intact.