It’s not easy to build ad campaigns for an industry nobody likes talking about. Unfortunately, many essential businesses deal with sensitive topics by nature — such as cancer centers, funeral homes, or STD clinics. These brands need unique marketing strategies, but if your promotion is too flashy or mishandles the messaging, you’ll offend an audience you can’t afford to lose.
So how do we, as marketers and human beings, approach sensitive yet important topics?
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes
“Understand your audience.” Sounds easy, right? This advice lies at the heart of all marketing strategies, but you’ll need to bring it up by several notches when addressing a sensitive topic. These campaigns need to prove they get what a customer is going through. If you haven’t conducted that market research or don’t have that expertise in your creative team, it’s far more likely you will fail spectacularly.
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The best place to start is from a position of empathy. Listen to your target audience as much as possible and try to grasp their perspective. From there, see if you can answer the following questions:
- What are the customer’s immediate and long-term needs?
- What tone do customers use when discussing a sensitive topic?
- How do they feel when they see imagery relating to the issue?
- How will they react when they see poorly crafted messaging?
This list is far from exhaustive, but it can provide insight into what customers need to see — and what they don’t want to see — in a public advertising campaign.
Avoid mass market channels
Many brands promote themselves on mass-market channels—such as television ads or in-app mobile game placements—hoping their message will filter its way towards a relevant audience. For sensitive topic brands, this is a horrible idea. The more likely response is people who don’t understand your message will co-opt it — perhaps intentionally, because it offends them, or accidentally, by making it a funny meme.
A better approach is to avoid mass-market channels and instead, leverage your audience insights to find out where customers tend to visit:
- Create Google Search Ads that target relevant keywords
- Design advertisements for websites relating to your industry
- Write sponsored content and byline articles for industry publications
- Attend applicable conventions or seek out industry-adjacent speaking opportunities
When all else fails — or if you’re just getting started — word-of-mouth recommendation techniques are especially effective at finding customers who benefit from your brand.
Be brief, but also honest
Sensitive topics can be important for any reason, but that doesn’t mean customers want to linger on the details. Do everyone a favor and get to the point right away. You don’t need a lengthy preamble or filler content, just clarify how your brand can help.
One technique for brevity in advertising is keeping things short without sacrificing honesty. You don’t want to downplay the customer experience or overlook vital details. To accomplish this, focus on factual truths — don’t exaggerate issues or veer into subjective opinion. If your messaging focuses on the most relevant facts, customers can fill in the emotional gaps themselves. Never underestimate the power of truthful messaging refined into the shortest possible form.
It’s not easy to build ad campaigns around a sensitive topic. The good news is approaching customers with empathy shows that your brand cares and can help them. For people dealing with challenges they’d rather not discuss, that makes all the difference in the world.
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