Covid-19 has pretty much turned the world upside down, grinding life as we know it to a halt and creating economic upheaval as never seen before. The global lockdown has brands scrambling to respond to their new realities, reworking their marketing while navigating the fine line between being helpful vs exploiting the situation
Your email inboxes have most probably been bombarded through the last couple of weeks with updates from every company you have ever had contact within your life. Emails informing you about changes in service, updated policies, store closures, special discounts, and of course the fact that they ‘are here for you through this tough time’. If you think about it, now is the best time to truly understand the number of databases that your email id sits within.
Brands need to understand that their customers’ patience for marketing fluff is at an all-time low. A handy rule of thumb from Ryan Ku (Head of strategy at an SF based agency), “Be helpful, relevant, informative, constructively distracting or authentically compassionate.” If your efforts don’t fit into one of these buckets, you are just adding to the noise.
It’s important to take into consideration the changing needs of our customers and more importantly their current emotional state of mind. Deploying tone-deaf marketing communications is asking for a world of hurt where channels like social media allow for any backlash to be amplified.
Below we take a look at a few marketing hits and some epic misses across the world and hopefully, there is a lesson to be learned for the rest of us.
Corona Beer: The poor beer brand could not have asked for a worse start to the year than having a similar name to the dreaded virus. Their miss isn’t so much in the name but in their slow response to updating or at least canceling an awkwardly phrased advertising campaign. The new range of hard soda water came along with a tagline of “Coming Ashore Soon”. This obviously did not receive a favorable reaction from their fans as you can imagine.
Takeaway: Pretty simple – review your marketing campaigns and adjust accordingly.
Asos: This popular e-commerce brand launched a special edition face mask back in August 2019, promoting it as the ultimate accessory for festival an flu season to help to deal with close-talkers. While this item was given a pass in 2019, the brand’s automated media campaign had it running right through the start of 2020 and into the peak of COVID-19. This obviously resulted in a number of complaints and the company eventually pulled the product from its website.
Takeaway: Remember that media campaign you signed off on 6 months ago, it might be a good time to review its timelines. Also, perhaps audit the products you are pushing out into the market.
Harvey Norman (Australia): Whoops, an Australian branch of Harvey Norman was forced to apologize after the below-handwritten sign appeared outside one of their stores. Linking products made outside of Australia to the virus and attempting to instill national pride for ‘Made in Aus’ was not in good taste and most certainly racist. This is a perfect example of how social media can highlight one mistake by one branch and amplify it across the world, casting a negative light on the brand as a whole.
Takeaway: Ensure swift and clear communications from your head office, providing all your employees with guidelines on how to navigate this period. This includes managing authorship rights around who can speak for the brand about the crisis.
KFC (USA): KFC started off with a huge educational push, reassuring customers of its safety precautions in store. Next, it partnered with a non-profit, donating $400,000 to go directly to distributing pre-packaged meals for school children.
Takeaway: This is an example of good, clear communications that shows how KFC is managing the situation and mitigating risk. Look out for opportunities to meaningfully give back to the community.
Burger King (France): Another fast-food brand for the win, Burger King scored a win on social media. The brand used Twitter to put out the exact ingredients needed to recreate some of the classic items on its menu. The best part, every ingredient was available in supermarkets across the country.
Takeaway: Look at the big picture, understand how you fit into your customer’s lives and what questions they might have in mind at this moment in time.
Z Energy (New Zealand): This article would be incomplete without mentioning the stellar local efforts by Z Energy. The company offered a month of free fuel to St. John ambulances across the country. Free fuel will help keep 700 ambulances and operational vehicles on the road as we navigate through this crisis.
Takeaway: Z Energy lived up to its core ethics, reinforcing its stance that it’s here for the good of NZ’s local communities.
Marketing in the time of a pandemic creates an opportunity to stand out and build positive brand sentiment. But it also can be a time to quickly drop down the ladder with careless efforts. The key is to be genuine and empathetic, understand what your customers are looking for and how you can add value to their world.
As seen in Adweek – “Strategy means knowing when to stay silent just as much as it means knowing what to post and when.”
Good marketers are always highly adaptable, and this time of crisis requires adaptation like never before. The question to ask yourself is: “what do we need to do right now, that is different from what we would normally be doing?”