Paul Marobella on meaningful brands, not riding Uber and going forth with purpose

Paul Marobella, Chairman and CEO, Havas Creative North America, discusses post-lockdown theory with AdForum’s Carol Mason and Dasha Ovsiannikova

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Paul Marobella
Chairman & CEO Havas Creative, North America

AdForum: What is the new brand message going to be post Covid?

Paul Marobella: In the most immediate future, we’re all going to have to learn how to live our daily lives again—just differently.

Rote, automated tasks that we all mastered in the past—like visiting a Starbucks, going through airport security, or even buying a car—will be re-learned. And that’s where brands will come in with new messaging around “how” consumers will engage with their products as opposed to focusing on the “why.” 

As we move through this stage of the crisis, we are shifting from the gratitude and give-back narrative, to a go-forth and engage signal.


Which brands have caught your attention in the last weeks, with differentiated messaging and actions?

Uber is a stand-out for me. The counter-intuitive message of "Thank You For Not Riding Uber" is very smart and has strategically leaned into the sheltering in place environment. It’s pretty bold when a company like this spends creative and media dollars asking you not to use their brand.

Some brands have been incredibly agile in flexing to meet new demand during lockdown.

Havas Chicago client Cracker Barrel has created a family meal basket during this time. The product was announced with its partnership with DoorDash, demonstrating how the brand, a typical sit-down restaurant, adjusted its business model to go beyond traditional delivery and meet deeper at-home meal needs. 


Panera, another example, adapted very quickly through Panera Grocery. The online ordering app initially offered their own products, but then expanded to cover essential grocery staples, such as fresh produce and dairy, available through rapid pick-up or contactless delivery. This offers a perfect solution for those customers who value Panera’s food quality and sustainability goals, as a trusted brand. 


How will brands need to position in our new context?

Trust will be a big focus in the next phase of brand messaging. We’ve seen gratitude play out across our screens, but now it’s time for brands to educate and help navigate consumers through the reopening of America.

Brands that make a positive impact and gain trust will build new relevance. For example, brands with physical locations will need to innovate to win that trust. We’ve seen some create new roles within health and safety such as Hygiene Officers, to adapt to our new normal and take action to keep people safe.   


Which media channels will be most effective in communicating tactical initiatives? 

Direct relationships will have most resonance with consumers, through apps, content and streaming services.  

Apps facilitate direct messaging to the customer. This style of communication already feels more personal and tuned-in, as opposed to mass-media, where it’s harder to convey authentic empathy and connection.

A brand is able to communicate directly and in a real time environment via apps and this is now an opportunity to rethink and recalibrate digital marketing strategy.

Another Havas Chicago client, Autozone, is a great example of a brand that has used digital capabilities to target and connect with users.


When we come out of this crisis, our society will be changed. How are you going to rewire the traumatized hearts and minds with creativity? How are you preparing your clients to pivot to the new normal?

Havas is reinventing the relationship between brands and consumers by producing meaningful content that addresses this significant shift in consumer behaviors. 

Our study, called Meaningful Brands, identified three areas in which brands are considered to be meaningful —rational, emotional and collective benefits. Now, more than ever, collective benefits or how a brand impacts society and our world, will be critical. 

Traditional advertising won’t be enough. How brands and companies act, treat their own people and behavior in the environment will matter deeply. Brands need content that shapes cultural trends, not follows them. We need to use passion points to reach and authentically engage consumers—points like music, film, fashion, gaming—on social platforms.  

The need for connection hasn’t changed, but the way we establish connection has.


Do you think there will be a consumption shift towards pragmatism, perhaps similar to the 2008 financial crisis and the trend at that time, of the frugalist? 

TRIPTK, Havas’ brand consultancy, has been delivering consumer insights in real time since the beginning of COVID-19 and has identified insights that are forecasting the future of purchase behaviors.

According to TRIPTK, 33% of Americans are re-evaluating what’s important in the long term, and 32% of Americans will reconsider their approach to life in the long run after COVID-19. 

While exact individual approaches will differ, we already see that comfort and entertainment is key to the new essentialism. According to Global Web Index, 87% of U.S. consumers say they’re consuming more content, including spikes in online video, live video, music, and more. In fact, 76% of U.S. online video watchers already say they plan to consume just as much once the outbreak is over.

In contrast, according to The New York Times, purchase of specialty apparel, footwear, fast fashion, and jewelry is all down over 50%.


How will this crisis and the lockdown affect the way people think about their lives?

The new Do-It-For-Yourself (DIFY) movement is motivating all of us to create new rituals and practices from home, and there is opportunity for brands to support that in-home creative exploration. 

Consumers will become wary of indulgence and more in tune with what they need—essential versus non-essential—even post COVID times. This isn’t a reaction but a journey of self-discovery and realization as we learn new things we never did before. 

We’re already seeing the impact COVID-19 has had on the activities we choose, both old and new. I believe we’ll see an acceleration around brand engagement and activity within industries like e-sports and e-gaming, cooking and baking – these are all ‘experiences’ that have emerged now with new vigor. 


Last, turning back to the impact on office life, are there any Covid work policies that Havas will adopt permanently? Just this week Twitter announced a plan to continue WFH for staff who want to do that.

I think this crisis has demonstrated that creativity can come from everywhere. Whether you’re ideating from a conference room or the bedroom, working remotely doesn’t affect good ideas. 

Now, of course, our current surroundings—like the lawnmower outside my window as we are talking, kids and pets—can be challenging. But I think remote working could be something we look at closer as we determine our plan to open. 

With no one in a hurry to travel, in addition to companies continuing to be mindful of budget, I think virtual client meetings and new business pitches will become part of the new normal.  


A heartfelt thank you to Paul Marobella for speaking with us and sharing inspiration – we appreciate it very much. (Go Blackhawks :).