There is a fine line separating sympathy and blunt exploitation, which means it takes as little as a misinterpreted image to fall on the wrong side of a conversation. COVID-19 is proving to be an ‘unprecedented time’ and a ‘challenging context’ to us all, but it does not mean all brands and marketers should hop aboard the bandwagon to just market and sell more.
Just last week consumer insight platform Dynata has conducted a survey of over 10,000 people across the world, trying to gauge their sentiment towards brands in the pandemic. The message is quite clear: consumers will call you out as soon as you mess up your messaging.
It may be tempting to take advantage of the current situation to try and increase the reach of your brand. But please, marketers; don’t just take advantage of the pandemic. Join the conversation to bring real value with your brand.
Should I still advertise my brand during the pandemic?
Absolutely. In fact, almost half of the respondents in Dynata’s research stated that “it’s perfectly fine for brands to keep advertising during the pandemic. The only caveat being that you should make sure your conversation is relevant and in line with the current sentiment, and that you are not taking any false step to just gain the public’s consensus.
McDonald’s case is probably the prime example of pandemic marketing gone wrong. The global fast food chain has separated the Golden Arches in its logo to symbolise social distancing – but consumers were quick to call out the company’s hypocrisy, pointing out the lack of sick pay for its employees at the time.
As McDonald’s case shows, trying to take advantage of the common sentiment can easily blow in your face. In this age of social media and connected consumer base, you can’t expect to pull off a stunt and just get away with it, especially if you’re a global brand like a fast food chain.
What voice should I adopt for my brand during the pandemic?
You probably don’t want to end up like McDonald’s in the tweet above. That was a tremendous marketing crisis and one that certainly backfired quite fast. In response, McDonald’s has removed all the references to separated arches and replaced them with social media ads marketing their services and delivery across the globe.
McDonald’s U-turn is arguably just as questionable as the first attempt, but it shows that you must make sure your voice is relevant to the times, and most of all in accordance with your brand. Those brands which do good to their communities and take care of their employees will be hugely rewarded when this is all over.
It is acceptable and encouraged to acknowledge the current situation when suitable to do so. Dozens of brands have uploaded a black tile in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but consumers, protesters and people in the BAME community and beyond were quick to call out their hypocrisy in that case as well.
Much different was the case of Nike. Nike has launched a campaign featuring its top athletes to show how the brand is helping them remain healthy while staying home. The brand is supporting the shift in public life and is offering services that can make a real difference in the bigger picture.
Source: Nike News
For reference, Nike is also the same company that sided with Colin Kaepernick some time ago. Nike’s messaging is consistent throughout and shows a real care for the purpose and social responsibility values the company stands for.
Should my brand just go quiet during the pandemic?
Just as it might seem tempting to take advantage of the pandemic to advertise more, it can also sound just as tempting to ignore the current situation and keep doing business as usual.
It is important, now more than ever, to show authenticity and empathy to stand out in the ocean of mass media communications. Brands that did not adjust their messaging in the light of the pandemic were seen as unappealing by a quarter of Dynata’s respondents. On the other hand, 47% have expressed interest in ads that were communicating how a brand is contributing to the needs of all of us during this pandemic.
Nike above is yet again a brilliant example of this. But you don’t need to go above and beyond for consumers to notice – even just a simple gesture as a donation to support research and the supply crisis can be enough.
Whatever you do, you should probably avoid asking consumers to donate to your own employee relief fund, especially if you’re Jeff Bezos and you’re leading a company which is enormously benefitting from this lockdown situation. Amazon’s choice was obviously met with a tremendous backlash.
Relevant, transparent, authentic
It may start to sound like a recurring formula to the most navigated marketers, but there is nothing as powerful as showing authenticity through your brand’s voice. Especially during a global pandemic, people are yearning for a more human connection and the time is now to show your most empathetic, transparent and human side to all your consumers.
Just maybe avoid asking 8,000 of your employees to take unpaid leave with a spreading pandemic all over Europe, heh?