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COVID-era culture calls on marketing sector to create new types of messages

State Farm Arena, voting, polling copy

By David Pendered

Turning State Farm Arena into Georgia’s biggest polling place may be a marketing stroke of brilliance. The COVID-driven stampede to online everything also puts the marketing sector at a pivot point in today’s culture.

State Farm Arena

Voters at the State Farm Arena have only to look to the video signs surrounding the floor where polling machines are placed to remember they are in State Farm Arena. Special: AMA

Marketing programs have become ubiquitous in the pandemic. From marketing comes the health awareness campaigns at the heart of reopening the economy – how to behave in a doctor’s office and grocery store check-out line; how to deposit a check into a bank account with a mobile app; how to join a virtual meeting.

In a society that is still sheltering in place, to a large degree, the Internet has become even more of a town square then before the pandemic, according to Joe Koufman, founder and CEO of Setup, a matchmaker of brands and marketing agencies, and board member of Atlanta’s chapter of the American Marketing Assoc.

“COVID has done more for the digital transformation than any digital enterprise,” Koufman said. “What COVID has done is brought acceleration.”

North Face

North Face presented a challenge message. Credit: AMA

To make his point, Koufman cited the huge spike in prices of shares of Shopify, a cloud-based commerce platform popular with web and social-media storefronts. According to a price tracker on wsj.com, Shopify shares were priced at $422.31 on March 11, the day the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At the closing bell Oct. 16, the price was $1,067.21 – an increase of 153% in seven months as investors bet the consumer shift to online purchases will stick.

Companies have sought to adapt to the surge of consumers turning to the Internet for shopping and services. To facilitate the redirection, marketing programs – many of them devised by Atlanta-based marketing companies – had to be adapted and expanded to help viewers navigate the online experience, according to Laura Thompson, founder of Helium and president of AMA’s Atlanta chapter. This is especially the case for customers who may still want to shop in a store, she said.

“For many brands, the change in dynamic introduced by COVID has pushed customers who would typically prefer to purchase or interact offline/in-store to use digital channels,” Thompson said. “For these newly digital adopters, it has been instrumental for brands to focus on educational, benefits-driven messaging to clearly and simply outline the steps customers need to take to meet their needs.”

fig, full comment

Critics condemned an ad by clothier Figs for a message deemed offensive on many levels. The badge at the waist, DO, refers to doctor of osteopathy. Credit: twitter.com

Some messages flop. Others crash and burn. The fast shout-out of two clunkers last week speaks to the penetration of marketing in this COVID-era culture.

The flop was an ad from Figs, a provider of medical scrubs. The ad was deemed offensive for showing a svelte, female osteopathic doctor reading a book that was upside down, Medical Terminology for Dummies. The company didn’t help by apologizing for “any hurt this has caused,” rather than apologizing for the ad itself. The twitter volley expanded to criticism of Figs for favoring thin, stylish women in its ads. NBC’s report was among several to cover the issue.

A proposed ad for Motel 6 crashed and burned after someone leaked that the ad’s company’s founder had deemed the ad “too Black” and would not be well received by Motel 6’s “significant White supremacist constituents.” Motel 6 immediately fired Richards Group, ending a relation with the company that marketed the slogan, “We’ll leave the lights on for you.” Home Depot followed suit, and other companies announced their review of ties to the Texas-based company. A report in bloomberg.com was among several posted about the incident.


Izzy, the mascot of Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Olympic Games, was not warmly embraced. Credit: wikipedia.org

Atlanta has had its share of duds. Izzy, the mascot for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, was shared with the entire world. Many may still wonder “what is it,” if anyone remembers.

Then, there’s the State Farm Arena as a polling place.

The Atlanta Hawks announced in June a partnership with Fulton County to provide voting space. In addition, the Hawks Foundation offered to provide free parking for voters who didn’t want to ride MARTA to the arena. NBA marketers shared the news across social media platforms and the message seeks to place the Hawks at the heart of the community with these three quotes:

  • Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts: “Fulton County is grateful to the entire Atlanta Hawks organization for being an outstanding partner. Tony Ressler, Steve Koonin and their organization have once again demonstrated that the Hawks are True to Atlanta.”

    Candidates are restricted from sharing their name and message within a certain distance of a precinct. The law does not extend to signage for the State Farm Arena in its roll as a polling place. Special: AMA

  • Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections Chair Mary Carole Cooney: “State Farm Arena is an ideal solution to help us serve thousands of voters while maintaining social distancing requirements. We appreciate the Hawks for coming to us with this creative solution.”
  • Atlanta Hawks & State Farm Arena Principal Owner Tony Ressler: “When our ownership group purchased the Hawks & State Farm Arena five years ago, we were clear that we felt it was our responsibility to make sure the organization was an important civic asset to the city of Atlanta. Utilizing State Farm Arena and our incredible staff to make the arena an accessible and vital polling site in an important election year is a fulfillment on that promise.”


Joe Koufman and Laura Thompson

Joe Koufman and Laura Thompson



Kroger sought to present unity and personal safety. Credit: AMA


Enterprise Rent A Car

Enterprise Rent A Car reminds of pleasant travels. Credit: AMA


Crate & Barrel

Crate & Barrel presented a comforting message. Credit: AMA



Homegoods told of its efforts to promote safe health behaviors and to sanitize stores. Credit: AMA



Panara seeks to assure customers of safe food collections. Credit: AMA


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



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