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What Marketers Can Learn from Ex-cons About the First Steps of Freedom



2050 London’s Ben Tan looks to ex-cons to understand how the nation might react to its first taste of freedom after months of lockdown ‘imprisonment’ and what brands can learn from this

What Marketers Can Learn from Ex-cons About the First Steps of Freedom

It’s one hundred and seventeen days to the end of lockdown. Like the rest of Britain, marketers are wondering what it will be like to finally step out when national house arrest is lifted. And, less romantically, are also wondering where the brand opportunities might be? Who better to answer this question that those who have experienced this transition: ex-cons. So, I looked through interviews with people talking about their first days out of prison to see what brands might learn…

Relearn the everyday

“My last release, after 35 days in, the absolute very first thing I did was drop my phone on the sidewalk. The little things you forget how to do.” Emily Bowman.

By the time lock down is lifted it will have been months since we were last in a pub, may be a year since we were last in an office. The old muscle memory will have a layer of fat on it and we will have to consciously think about things that used to be automated routine. This applies to basic routines like ‘punching the door code’ to more complex routines like ‘go to Sainsburys, get the usual lunch, then queue and pay all while looking at the phone’. Out-of-home life will be a more considered affair and when routines breakdown and thinking occurs, switching opportunities arise. Our first months of freedom will be replete with new brand reappraisal moments, how will your brand not only defend itself, but also take advantage and grow?

You remember your firsts

“Went to Denny’s for chicken fried steak, eggs, hash browns, pancakes, milk, orange juice and coffee.” Len Anglin.

We remember our firsts - first school, first kiss, first job. And those who were with us at these pivotal points in time are etched into that ‘first’ story. Denny’s will always have a place in Len’s heart. There will be a lot of ‘first X after lockdown’ moments coming up which means a lot of ‘forever’ stories are about to be written. Is your brand going to be in them?

Genuine joy lies in the details

“It’s hard to explain the excitement I felt being free again. It’s actually a wonderful experience being released after doing time... Being behind the fence, it is very hard to really appreciate this marvellous world we live in.” Zachary Taylor.

The end of lockdown will induce a collective joy unparalleled since the 2012 Olympics - a powerful national moment to share. However, brands’ track record on tapping into the Covid zeitgeist is patchy to say the least… Remember the slew of identikit ‘by your side’, ‘now more than ever’ and ‘in these unprecedented times’ messages? We don’t need another bandwagon’s worth of vapid ‘new dawn’ ads. Genuine joy will be found in reacquainting ourselves with the wonderful details of out-of-home life, erstwhile overlooked details we now miss like long-lost friends. How will your brand authentically share this genuine joy – assuming it has any business doing so?

Making up for lost time

“I got out of the parking lot asap before they could change their minds... Smoked too much, ate too much, drank too much.” Jeff Davis.

“The first thing I did was spend time with my mom and my daughters.” Jennifer Stone.

“Went to the tiny Catholic Church in Ely, Nevada, where the pastor allowed me to spend some quiet time giving thanks to God!” Paul Fletcher.

We all want to make up for lost time, but this will mean different things to different people. The news and social feeds will focus on ‘party time’ but that’s just a fraction of what freedom means.  Aside from different interests, people are also in very different financial situations – those in secure jobs have enforced savings burning a hole in their pocket. How will your brand align opportunities to different motives and means to make up for lost time?

Dress for the persona you want to be

“I want a suite, a shower, a shave, the feel of a suit.” John Mason.

OK, this one is actually from the film The Rock, but it makes a good point that nothing reflects an internal sense of ‘new beginning’ than looking and living the part. Jeans, sweatshirts and hair that makes Edward Scissorhands look coiffured may be fine for our supply teacher, work-from-homer, sourdough-baker and DIY-er identities, but we’re now dusting off our office and socialite personas and they need different kit. How can your brand help people look and live the sides of themselves that have been dormant for the last year?

So, what do the interviews teach us about those first tastes of freedom? It will be emotional. It will be rejuvenating. Genuine joy will come from appreciating the details of life. There is a danger in unrealistic expectations – think of the pressure on Millennium New Year’s Eve to be the best night ever. Oh, and we don’t ever want to go back.

Image taken from 'The Italian Job' (1969) original trailer. 

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2050 London, Fri, 26 Feb 2021 15:02:15 GMT