📆 July 18, 2023 | ⏱️ 3 minute read

Tone Deaf Marketing

Today I visited the website of a business that I’ve been a long-time customer of and noticed something strange about their marketing. They were advertising a “summer heat wave special”. This came off to me as absolutely tone deaf and in poor taste. We are in the middle of arguably the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced in its history and the disastrous effects it’s having are being used as a marketing strategy?

Understand that I am not one of those people who complains to customer service departments on a regular basis over minor problems, but in this case I felt it appropriate. You can find the full reformatted and redacted transcript here if you’re interested. For this entry, I have cut out the irrelevant automated messages to save time:

5:41:45 p.m.        [REDACTED]:  Good Afternoon, Thank you for contacting [REDACTED]. This is [REDACTED]. How may I assist you?
5:43:03 p.m.  Nicholas Johnson:  Yes. I recently noticed [REDACTED]'s marketing of the "summer heat wave special".
5:43:41 p.m.  Nicholas Johnson:  I think this marketing is tone deaf and should be changed, especially since 2023 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. Maybe something like "summer special" would be better, but not mentioning the heat wave.
5:44:43 p.m.        [REDACTED]:  We do appreciate your feedback Nicholas. I will be sure to pass the suggestion on to our marketing department.
5:44:51 p.m.        [REDACTED]:  Is there anything else I can assist you with today?
5:45:39 p.m.  Nicholas Johnson:	 Thank you. Please do pass this on. That is all I need for today.
5:45:56 p.m.        [REDACTED]:  No problem at all. Thank you for contacting [REDACTED]. Have a wonderful day!

I think it’s important to talk about the concrete harm this marketing might do. My specific complaint is that marketing like this might subconsciously get people to associate the effects of climate change (the summer heat wave), with something good (a special offer), and thus take the climate crisis less seriously. Summer heat waves are not good and marketing teams shouldn’t make light of them.

In defense of this business, the customer service representative handled my complaint well. I don’t think the marketing team did this intentionally. In all likelihood, they just failed to consider the larger context. And while it’s known that marketing subconsciously influences people, I don’t have any strong evidence that it does in the specific way I’m suggesting.

Nevertheless, I think this marketing supports my hypothesis I posited a few weeks ago in my commentary on the movie “Don’t Look Up” where I claimed that people aren’t emotionally integrating the reality of climate change as evidenced by the two observations that

  1. Climate change doesn’t make its way into people’s decision making even when relevant
  2. The dismissive avoidance people react with when the subject of climate change comes up

One of two things had to happen in this particular case. Either the tone-deafness of the marketing didn’t occur to the marketing team or it did and they didn’t care enough to change it. Given that the former is more likely, this lends credence to my hypothesis that people aren’t integrating climate change into their decision making and thus aren’t processing it on an emotional level either.