In most cultures, hands have a symbolic meaning. The right is often associated with positivity, energy, profit or power. The left, however, is linked to the application of punishment, to justice or to the underhanded. The right is positive and optimistic; the left is negative and terrible. The hands are thus a metaphor for the opposites that sometimes surround us. In marketing too. There is positive marketing that places values and virtues that are beneficial to society. and negative marketing that plays on deception to give something or someone an appearance that it does not have. The pandemic has brought to the table situations in which these supposedly right-handed and left-handed styles have clashed.
Is it possible that, in a situation of global crisis, marketing experts want to take advantage of the circumstances to glorify a brand by simulating a benefit for the community? Without a doubt. It is another matter whether such self-interested approaches have been or are being pursued. Fortunately, we have seen more examples of sincere behaviour than other stakeholders.
“There is positive marketing that puts values and virtues beneficial to society above the brand”.
Last June, Vodafone Spain announced an initiative to provide around 120 SMEs with a circuit of more than 180 digital billboards in six cities. The aim was to contribute to the visibility of neighbourhood businesses that would never have had the financial muscle to pay for advertising campaigns but would need it to revive their business after the closure. Even if these SMEs were previous Vodafone customers, it is pure right-wing marketing to give away these spaces for free in order to give visibility to those most affected and leave the brand itself in the background.
The same can be said of Room Mate Hoteles. In November, the company encouraged all travellers to book stays in establishments owned by Spanish companies or chains. To make this visible, it shared an image on LinkedIn tagging some of its major rivals, such as NH Hotel Group, Barceló and Meliá. The brand is present as a communicator of the message, but not as a direct beneficiary. The principle seems clear: put what is good for the sector and not just for oneself first.
The example of Burger King
In early November, Burger King in the UK surprised its social media followers by sharing an eye-catching and direct message: “Order from McDonald’s”. The text, which revolutionised platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn within hours, continued as follows: “We never thought we’d ask you to do something like this. Just like we never thought we’d encourage you to order from KFC, Subway, Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, Five Guys, Greggs, Taco Bell, Papa John’s, Leon? or any other independent establishment, too many to mention here. Yes, Burger King was encouraging customers to order food from any of its rivals at a time when the UK authorities were tightening up on covid-19 and forcing restaurants to close temporarily.
Lo sabemos, nosotros tampoco pensábamos que diríamos esto. pic.twitter.com/cVRMSLSDq6— Burger King (@BurgerKingUK) November 2, 2020
Burger King’s is, however, a two-handed action, right and left. With the right, it puts its enormous visibility at the service of third parties, the weakest in terms of advertising resources. With the left, he again plays McDonald’s, his nemesis, which he has directly and indirectly named in numerous campaigns. He challenged the brand to join Peace One Day, associated Ronald McDonald’d with the terror of Halloween and, in the United States, went so far as to dress up a McDonald’s establishment to be really scary.
With its left hand, Burger King carried out a masterful branding action which, however, will have brought no direct benefit to its competitors. By provoking with that headline (“Order from McDonald’s”), I was highlighting the one chain that surely didn’t need its advertising resources in this crisis, but I was pointing it out with an act of kindness. “I am compassionate towards my rivals, what about you,” he seemed to say.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we find the hackneyed phrase “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing“. Behind this verbal filigree, what the author is telling us is that if you are going to do good, you don’t need to rub it in others’ faces. The opposite is hesitation.
“If you’re going to do good, you don’t have to rub it in other people’s faces”.
Times like these are for right-handed marketing. It may be paradoxical, but when marketing is sincere, it works best for the corporate brand, image and reputation.