NatWest's CMO on the imporance of right-brain thinking
A view from Margaret Jobling

Brands have rediscovered emotion and right-brain thinking during Covid

Margaret Jobling, chief marketing officer at NatWest Group, on what we can learn from the pandemic to change the way we approach advertising going forward.

This is a time like no other. If you cast your mind back just 12 months, it would have been completely inconceivable to think that we’d be asked to stay at home, to be locked away from friends and family, to live in such unknown territory. But here we are, getting by and looking forward to better days ahead.

From a business perspective, while we may be longing to meet our colleagues face to face, the good thing to come out of this is true agility and bravery. Against a backdrop of the global pandemic, brands have, arguably, been forced to create some of their most innovative and daring work in the past year. 

At a time when the tools marketers typically have access to is limited, businesses are being forced to rethink how they engage with their customers.

This brings the importance of communication into sharp focus. The crisis has put both group and individual behaviours under unparalleled scrutiny. It’s a situation that demands effective communication. And not just that, but the right communication. Brands have had to respond with humility and understanding, capturing and appealing to the ever-changing mood of the nation.

A brand that I’ve particularly admired during Covid is Tesco. It was quick to react. There was the safety comms “Some little helps for safer shopping”, a continuation of its “Food love stories” campaign, plus its popular “No naughty list” Christmas offering.

Tesco did lots of research to make sure it was striking the right tone with its customers, it adapted, it prioritised relatability and good humour. It really leaned in to the shared experience of the nation. 

At NatWest, we’ve been inspired by our purpose to champion potential and help people thrive. At the end of last year, we launched our “Tomorrow begins today” campaign, encouraging and empowering people to take small, simple steps right away to make a positive difference to their future. It focused on an aspirational promise and a rallying cry to take action.

The campaign, which featured in news brands, social and radio in December, with media planned by Zenith, tapped into changing minds and behaviours. Now is certainly not the time to champion a hard sell. People are experiencing unprecedented levels of fear and uncertainty – and they expect brands to understand and respond to this.

Research shows that certain advertising characteristics are resonating with audiences better in these times: not surprisingly, those showing a human connection and self-awareness. Interestingly, this may be a result of a “right-brain reset”, which could change the way we advertise going forward. 

The left brain is narrow, goal-oriented and procedural, while the right brain is broad, intuitive and empathetic. For the past two digital decades, there has been a shift in society towards left-brain dominance – and advertising hasn’t been immune to this. Creative has often failed to elicit an emotional response. 

During the pandemic, this has changed. We’ve seen more authentic content with real footage of real people. There has been more emotional engagement and a tone of empathy and understanding. While these ads were born out of necessity, I hope they set a new precedent for how we engage.  

Things have changed, there’s no going back. And that can be a positive. We need to think about how we can help people recover, rebuild and thrive. We must think more sustainably. We should be looking to make a real difference to people’s lives.

We’ve learnt some valuable lessons, both professionally and personally. Let’s take that learning into the weeks and months ahead. And, in the meantime, let’s celebrate and reward the brands that have produced some of their best work in these unprecedented times.

I’m chairing this year’s Newsworks Planning Awards and I’m looking forward to being inspired by the entries. After all, news brands have always been a great way to reach engaged audiences in a trusted environment, and this year, more than ever, that is vital.

The Newsworks Planning Awards 2021 will salute the very best news brand campaigns over the past year. The deadline for entries is 26 FebruaryFind out more here.