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Brands score by selling escapism

By Jeremy Mullman
Jeremy Mullman
Oct 30, 2020
2 MIN. READ
Amid 2020’s unrelenting traumas, brands see value in marketing escapism to homebound customers.

It’s long been true that effective marketing—and, frankly, most effective human interaction—is rooted in meeting people where they are. Amid 2020’s unrelenting traumas, it may be even more important to meet them where they’d rather be.

Tourism Iceland is a brand that’s certainly capitalized on this dynamic. Its latest effort encourages homebound people around the world to record screams that will be released in the gorgeous but scarcely populated country’s expanses, where they can echo through fjords, off waterfalls, and across an otherwise unspoiled landscape. (You can visit the website to record your own scream.)

It’s fairly inspired stuff, even if the locals are a little annoyed, because it understands the reality of its audience: They’re largely housebound and unable to travel. So rather than sell people something they can’t buy, it finds a way to make the campaign both useful and aspirational in the moment. Who in 2020 can’t relate to needing to let out a primal scream?

One of our clients, Hotels.com, has played the escapism card from a different angle via highly creative, highly relevant bookable experiences. Their most recent campaign rented out accommodations “under a rock” for election week, to allow one lucky booker an opportunity to escape the inevitably toxic closing days of election 2020 (after voting early, of course) 50 feet below ground in New Mexico.

“Hotels.com understands,” wrote the Washington Post. How broadly did the idea resonate? Well, I’ve been doing this awhile and can’t recall a single campaign showing up simultaneously in CNET and Country Living.  

Travel brands like Hotels.com and Tourism Iceland have obvious advantages in marketing escapism. After all, their core business involves persuading people to go someplace they don’t live.

But brands in other categories can play, too. One popular move has been to fast-forward through 2020. Popeye’s started its New Year’s countdown in August, just a few weeks after Burger King celebrated Christmas in July.

Other brands have opted to go back to simpler times. Our client Miller Lite’s “Miller Timeshare” campaign transformed a midwestern rental into a groovy throwback to 1975, the year of the original light beer’s founding. The house comes stacked with vintage details like an avocado-colored kitchen, retro games and snacks, and—of course—lots of beer. The idea of traveling back in time connected with a broad range of media audiences, drawing coverage in Travel + Leisure, Insider, Maxim, and dozens of other national and local outlets.

Which was, of course, precisely the point. In a year where everything looks a little bit different, brands that can create a fun and unique escape from reality are making the biggest splash.  

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By Jeremy Mullman
Jeremy Mullman

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