Should you market your brand during the Coronavirus Crisis?

1st April 2020

written by George Hughes

If you are worried about how to communicate with your customers and the wider world during this crisis, then you are not alone. It’s a hot topic right now for many brand marketers. A recent survey by Advertising Perceptions found that nearly half of advertisers have stopped campaigns already in progress. So should you continue your brand’s marketing during the Coronavirus crisis and if so, then how should you do it? 

 

A recent Endelman survey of 12,000 people in the world’s leading economies found that consumers are demanding that brands act and communicate differently during the Covid-19 crisis, with nearly two-thirds (65%) saying how brands respond to the pandemic will have a “huge impact” on their likelihood to buy their products. So it’s clear that the next few months will be an important time for brand trust. Yes, your actions are under extreme scrutiny right now but that doesn’t mean you should stop your marketing. Ask yourself the question, could inaction actually be worse than taking action?

My background is as a storyteller, a marketer and a content creator. Through 14 years in the TV industry and then building a content agency, I’ve learnt that the most important element of my craft is understanding the audience and putting myself in their shoes. This is what you must do now, as the way you communicate with your audience is critical. Remember that everything you do right now from a marketing perspective should be in the context of the fact we are going through a global crisis. And here are some of the most important things you should consider.

Be Sensitive

It seems obvious but this is one of the most fundamental elements to consider when communicating during this time. Remember that some people are going through hell. They are stuck at home with their kids driving them up the wall, they may have taken a hit to their income, are worried about losing their jobs or have already been made redundant. They’re worried about mortgage payments, rent or how they will pay their bills. They are scared for their loved ones, may have been extremely ill or had a friend or family member who has lost their life as a result of this pandemic.

You must put yourself in the shoes of your audience and be sensitive to the struggles that they are going through. Many brands have made the decision to pull advertising campaigns due to the current crisis including Cadbury’s Easter Egg campaign that showed a grandfather hugging his grandchildren and KFC’s “Finger Licking Good” campaign that had people licking their fingers. It makes sense that you should not be advertising using insensitive or inappropriate messaging that might upset people or send out the wrong message. 

Be Helpful

In this time, the best thing you can do is provide help, assistance and value in any form you can. When the dust settles on this crisis, we will look back and see how brands handled themselves. The Sports Directs and Wetherspoons of the world will be under fire for their response to the crisis where other brands will emerge with their hands clean.

What can you do to help your customers, peers and wider world? Some have formed partnerships with other brands to offer help, they are creating useful or entertaining content and shifting their focus or production onto altruistic activities.

For example, BrewDog turned to manufacturing hand sanitiser during the shortage. As a result they’ve jumped 4.6 points in consumer perception according to Yougov BrandIndex and are now top of the rankings for beer and cider brands for “buzz”. But it’s also worth mentioning that the “buzz” is a balance of negative and positive things being said as some people question their “agenda”. Which brings me on to my next point…

Brewdog Hand Sanitiser

Don’t be Disingenuous

Consumers are cynical. We’ve become mistrustful of brands “agendas” as we’ve been let down so many times in the past by marketers looking to capitalise on current events. Look no further than the Pepsi campaign with Kendall Jenner that trivialised the Black Lives matter movement and had to be pulled due to consumer backlash. We’ve become experts at spotting altruistic vs disingenuous behaviour.

If you are planning to offer help and assistance during this time, the best thing you can do is to take any type of hidden agenda off the table. Just put it out of your mind. If you start to think more altruistically then it will be easier to provide value to people without there being a backlash. Whatever you do, don’t try to exploit the situation by “jumping on the band-waggon” to your own benefit. I’d argue that Burger King are treading a fine line with this ad campaign in France that is advertising how to make your own Whopper under quarantine.

As Owen Lee, chief creative officer of FCB Inferno told the Drum “Brands are nervous about appearing to profit from this crisis. The conversation is being had in many client and agency organisations, but they have to be absolutely sure they are helping people [and] not just making money from it, or being seen to make money from it.

There’s some discussion going on right now in marketing circles about how many brands including McDonalds, Coke and Audi have created “social distancing logos”. Many argue that this belittles the severity of the situation. For more about how brands can build trust during the Coronavirus crisis, take a look at this interview from Ad Age with PR guru Richard Endelman.

Social distancing logos

Be Positive

The world is currently full of negativity and sadness. Flick on the news and it’s mostly doom and gloom. People are suffering from serious mental health issues as a result of this crisis and anxiety levels are through the roof.

Try to be as positive as possible (with the caveat of observing rule #1 of being sensitive). Give people hope. Give people inspiration. Show us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that in this period of desperation there is so much to be thankful for like community, family, relationships, endurance and human spirit. JC Decaux in Australia have just launched an out of home campaign to provide messages to frontline workers offering their support. How could you spread positivity with your brand? 

Don’t Brag

When I say don’t brag, I mean specifically in regards to the Coronavirus crisis. If you have a new product that was due to be released or a milestone in your company that has nothing to do with the pandemic then of course you should shout about it. A Kantar survey of 35,000 global consumers found that only 8% thought brands should stop advertising and 50% think brands should continue to talk in the same way they always have. 

What you shouldn’t do is tell everyone how well your company is doing despite the crisis, that you don’t know what everyone is complaining about and that business has never been so great. Some industries have not been as affected as badly as others but some, like the travel or hospitality industries are in utter turmoil. It’s insensitive to belittle the issues facing other people by talking about your success. Remember to strike that balance of being sensitive, but positive.

Certainly don’t follow in Kim Kardashian’s footsteps by offering a $1 Million donation to families affected by Covid-19 whilst also announcing the restocking of her shapewear line SKIMS. This unsurprisingly caused a backlash. 

Don’t Offer Medical Advice

Leave the advice and best practice to scientists, government bodies and the health service. Be extremely careful about sharing any videos, articles or other information related to the crisis which directly relates to people’s wellbeing. There is a lot of fake news doing the rounds and if you repost something that is inaccurate, you will become part of the misinformation problem that is costing lives. Check the source is solid before sharing any advice. And whatever you do, don’t share hearsay. Gossip spreads like wildfire on social media which is how everyone went into panic a little over a week ago when the “Army were moving into London to lock us down” which proved to have no substance. You can support government advice such as social distancing and other rules but don’t start offering your own.

Don’t Stop Marketing

It’s really important that life goes on in spite of the crisis. People expect to hear from your brand or business and an absence of comms could damage your image. With so many people at home right now and spending so much time online, you have their full attention like never before.

A recent Endelman study found that “In terms of communications, about 90% of customers expect brands to keep the public fully informed of changes to how they are now behaving and operating” and that “Eighty-four per cent of respondents now expect businesses to focus advertising on how products and services can help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges, while the vast majority expect brands to show they are aware of the crisis and its impact.”

Follow the steps above and think harder about what you are putting out there, but don’t stop marketing. Remember, people are scared. They are worried. They don’t know what the future holds. And you can help them. As time passes, we are getting used to this “new normal” and life will continue the same but different. So how will you adapt to the change? 

 

George Hughes is a former television Director and the Founder of video marketing agency Small Films. His company helps brands to communicate with a wider audience using strategic video content.

 

Want a professional hand in creating compelling, authoritative video content as part of your marketing? Get in touch today.

 

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