Creative without a sense of empathy could be a brand’s biggest mistake.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling positive about the world post COVID-19. During a time of crisis, when fear and panic buying started to take over, I noticed a switch and people started to act human again. We started singing from our balconies, applauding essential workers and helping the elderly. Acts like this have reminded us all to have a bit of empathy for each other. 

SOMETHING THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ESSENTIAL IN A GOOD PIECE OF CREATIVE. 

It’s interesting to see how we’ve embraced the notion of ‘being human’, and how some brands are stepping back from the regular sales objectives for a more empathetic approach to communications. From sending messages of hope to making useful products for essential workers this all leaves a strong impression on customers and builds trust. It has taken a pandemic to make us understand it needs to be a real effort to keep empathy in everything brands (and we as brand people) do.

THE REASON? 

In this time of uncertainty we crave human connection and we don’t respond well to brands ignoring that fact. A survey by qualtrics.com showed 65 percent of respondents agree that a brand’s actions significantly, or majorly impact their trust in a time of crisis. Thirty-three percent said they trust brands that don’t take advantage of a crisis to maximise their own profits.

SO HOW CAN BRANDS BE BETTER?

Today, brands need to bring empathy into every piece of creative. But for some reason when working behind-the-scenes for a brand, we (marketing people) sometimes forget how to be human and lose a sense of empathy in our work, hung up on brand guidelines and 20 percent rules. Pre-COVID this could be successful, but not anymore. Today, brands who don’t keep a sense of empathy, will be forgotten if they fail to meet this new standard.

So, how can brands create a better sense of empathy? By using principles to guide them during the creative process. Luckily for you readers, we’ve done the hard work for you. Like any good Art Director I’ve turned to Dieter Rams Principles of Good Design as a framework to design the principles of creating with empathy, with a touch of Magnum & Co:

IS IT HELPFUL? IT SHOULD HELP HUMANS.

IS IT GOOD? IT SHOULD BE HONEST TO HUMANS.

IS IT AESTHETICALLY PLEASING? IT SHOULD ATTRACT HUMANS.

Now we’re not saying that every piece of creative has to match up to all three, the first two are most critical in a time like now, but ultimately good design attracts all humans without bias.

It’s a strange world we live in, a brand with a sense of empathy can lead to some awful design choices and portray the exact opposite. An example could be this banner ad for women’s clothing brand Crossroads. Let’s see if it meets our principles of creating with empathy:

IS IT USEFUL? NO. 

IS IT GOOD? NO.

IS IT AESTHETICALLY PLEASING? NO.

Confused by our choices? Read on. 

It failed all three. This isn’t useful, human’s visiting the Crossroads website aren’t shopping for a face mask, this is to up-sell. There’s no honesty in this, just a brand pushing a product and to make things worse, the “stock up” button is leading people to panic buy. The aesthetic is lacking any life, with the floating product images and lack of people, this banner isn’t attracting anyone.

Now something else we’ve all seen, a beautiful idea genuinely helping people but how does it stack up to our principles? 

IS IT USEFUL? YES 

IS IT GOOD? YES

IS IT AESTHETICALLY PLEASING? NO 

It failed one of three. Why? This post is useful, it will save lives. It’s designed in grayscale which makes it easier to print at home. It’s good, the information is clear and easy to understand. It fails in aesthetic, but instead of blasting something that was designed for humanity and helping others. We redesigned it (still keeping it simple),  so it will attract even more humans to this viral kindness initiative. 

In this instructional video by Bunnings they teach customers the new ways to behave when in store. Even a video like this is an opportunity to bring empathy to the brand and should stand up to our principals. 

IS IT USEFUL? YES 

IS IT GOOD? YES

IS IT AESTHETICALLY PLEASING? YES

This useful instructional video could easily be dull, instead Bunnings is championing the humans behind the brand with this “How To” style video usually seen on YouTube, it keeps us engaged with visual cues like the employee crouching down to show the “X” on the floor. Employees are the best people to represent your brand, they’re doing it everyday so it makes perfect sense to champion them in this video. 

Last is Aussie typographer Gemma O’Brien with a message to essential workers in NYC.  This is an example of design during COVID-19 done right. 

IS IT USEFUL? YES 

IS IT GOOD? YES

IS IT AESTHETICALLY PLEASING? YES

Three YESES across the board. This message of thanks from a group of brands (Poster House NYC, Print Magazine, For Freedoms, and Time Square Arts) during a time when essential workers need something to put a smile on their face is very useful. There is no agenda to this billboard, no secret catch or huge logo just an honest message of gratitude. Gemma O’Brien’s typography is aesthetically pleasing, and humans seem to like it. Over 20,000 times in fact. Which meets all principles of creating with empathy.

Next time you start thinking of a new creative, stop and ask yourself:

“IS IT USEFUL? IS IT GOOD? IS IT AESTHETICALLY PLEASING?”

Words by Magnum & Co Art Director, Dean Arrow.