Managing brand stories with sensitive messages

Sometimes, brands find themselves in dangerous waters when trying to engage their audience through emotionally-charged popular narratives. Often enough, we see businesses initiating or tagging onto sensitive conversations involving race, politics, skin colour and gender; some nail it, others damage their brand catastrophically, and most end up making their conversations seem unauthentic. Remember how the race to position themselves right within the Black Lives Matter movement came out for most brands? Those who did not filter the narrative through their own brand personality, or present it through their true views and ideas, had their audiences disengaged, and sometimes even enraged.

Back in 2017, this famous failure of a brand story sparked unanimous reactions of disappointment and had Pepsi cornered to an embarrassing withdrawal of the ad and a public apology. Composite. Pepsi Global/Youtube, HanorahHardy/Twitter

Engaging with popular narratives is a good thing to do; It shows that the brand is alive, current, listening and responding to the world that its consumers live in. But, not every brand can tag onto every narrative. It must be authentic; there must be history, connection or reason; And most importantly, it must be delivered right through the brand’s personality and tone of voice.

When we were working with Rithihi—one of Sri Lanka’s most beloved saree boutiques—it became important to engage with certain topics that were sensitive. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in India as the death tolls were sky-rocketing, it was insensitive to talk about the beauty of sarees handmade in areas like Banaras, Kanchipuram and Ludhiana, that were devastated with disease. It was important to address this, and convey the brand’s authentic emotions towards the catastrophe; However, it was a highly emotionally-charged topic and there was already growing criticism on how some brands were delivering their messages.

Public apology by Robt. & John Murray, NY, 1775 LCCN2002705582.jpg
1775, PPOC. Library of Congress

A well-articulated brand personality and voice are the most important tools you have when navigating through complex or sensitive narratives. They are your frameworks to be truthful and authentic.

We created a newsletter with stories that celebrated the skill and beauty of artisanal communities affected by the pandemic. The message was approached through Rithihi’s values, while the response to the situation was framed through the brand’s personality framework. The stories, as always, were delivered strictly through the established brand voice for Rithihi. As a result, the message was authentic in reflecting Rithihi’s true views and sentiments, and well-received; it led to creating many meaningful conversations between the brand and its audience.

Read the newsletter stories responding to the sensitive pandemic situation in India

These kinds of emotionally-charged narratives are where a brand’s true strength in communications is tested. Rithihi continues to have interesting and engaging conversations with its circle through relevant topics and narratives that really speak to people; The brand personality framework and the voice that we crafted for Rithihi have been the key tools in getting these stories right. This is why we often point to Rithihi as an example of a brand that effectively uses the tools that we developed to have meaningful conversations. If you want to find out more on how we consult and create stories to help brands navigate through complex narratives, send me a message.

Read more

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Newsletter stories addressing lock-down induced business limitations

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