It feels comfortable, like a favorite sweatshirt. Comforting, like a creamy cheesy winter casserole. It just feels right.
But it’s wrong.
We can’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic, because that way lies an end to everything.
We want to. Really, really badly. This has been such a disruptive experience on so many levels.
There’s the lifestyle level: Not being able to go out to restaurants, shows and clubs, not even being able to shop freely or get a haircut, being stuck in the same place.
Then there’s the more basic level of those who are laid off and suddenly lack healthcare (almost always tied to employment in the U.S., unlike other developed countries)—just when they need it most.
Some even lack money to pay their rent or even buy groceries.
And of course, for the unlucky, there’s illness and even death.
With all these changes going on, of course everyone longs to go back to simpler times. But they don’t exist, and never did.
Do we really want to go back to a time when this country had seven active civilian-killing wars going on? When Big Banks got trillions in bailouts, while regular people were thrown out of their homes and onto the streets? When there was a new school shooting every week, and a new group of promising creatives got gobbled up by hostile holding companies every month?
Or do we want to go back further than that, when American teens were being fed into the Iraq War hopper by the millions, in service of “evidence” that turned out to be a lie for Big Oil companies? Companies that now want yet another federal bailout because suddenly no one can drive, fly or take cruises?
Or even further than that, when it was routine for women and people of color to be treated as second-class citizens? When agency creatives, almost without exception, worked on cigarettes, disgusting unhealthy junk food, pollutive gasoline and gas-guzzling cars, or some other personal or planetary poison?
I don’t think any of us really wants to go back there. I know I don’t.
What we need to get to, rather rapidly, is a point where the future feels more comfortable than the past, because it’s the only real choice any of us has.
And we’re not going to get there by following big political organizations, on either the left or the right. One wants to go back to the 2010’s, so far away yet so tantalizingly close, while the other wants to go all the way back to the 1950’s. We don’t have the luxury of doing either.
We need a new way forward. And marketing needs to lead the way by:
- Abandoning old models that don’t work any longer, such as basing all marketing strategies on short-term quarterly earnings
- Asking questions about how our clients’ products and services fit into the new future we all face together, where we all either thrive or face extinction
- Refusing to be satisfied with empty gestures that sympathetically intone “We’re together, even though we’re apart” while offering nothing to the increasingly large percentage of Americans struggling to make rent, buy groceries and receive basic healthcare
- Being brave enough to call out denial when we see it
- Understanding the difference between a brand—a promise that’s made to customers and truly kept, supported by marketing—and “branding,” a combination of logo design, trendy look and feel, and copy voice that’s meaningless except to other marketers
- Staying aware, painful though it can be, of the inflection point we’re all living in, and making choices—in our jobs as well as outside of them—that build a more sustainable and equitable world