There is a pandemic currently sweeping across the globe which has profoundly impacted society as a whole. It’s the new Netflix docuseries everyone is talking about: ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’. A true crime story of Joe Exotic, the self-proclaimed ‘gun-toting gay redneck’, and a whole cast of undesirables from the underworld of big cat breeding. It is the type of absurd, sensational escapism weary viewers are hungry for right now.
But once you’ve binge-watched all 8 episodes, reality bites.
The more worrying spread of COVID-19 is THE topic on everyone’s mind. And quite rightly so. It continues to tragically cost innocent lives, shatter businesses and consumer confidence in an uncertain time marked by strict city lockdowns, growing unemployment prospects and fragile financial markets. As people across the world forcefully embrace this 'new normal', brands are facing unprecedented challenges and venturing into unknown territory.
But should brands quietly wait for the storm to pass? Refrain from mentioning the pandemic and maintain a ‘business as usual’ mindset? A recent Kantar survey suggests that the answer to both questions is no — only 8% of consumers think brands should stop advertising due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to the firm’s COVID-19 Barometer research surveying more than 25,000 consumers across 30 markets.
A few things are certain: This is a rapidly changing situation with every nation trying their best to control the spread of COVID-19 at different stages of the curve. People are overwhelmed, confused and frightened (including CEOs). Brands are engaged on a tightrope walk that could have long-lasting positive OR negative repercussions. And that Joe Exotic, for the time being, is the perfect escape from it all.
Let’s take a look at some recent examples from brands that have sprung up over the last few weeks to help illuminate a better path forward as this crisis continues. Because, truthfully, some brands have nailed their reactions, while others in their haste have not.
In distressing times like these, consumer behaviours shift quickly and a key priority for brands is to cater to their most fundamental needs. At a time where their core service or product offering was no longer perceived as a necessity, these brands identified people’s most pressing pain points and thought out of the box to alleviate employees, consumers and health workers concerns during the crisis.
Following the rapid spread of COVID-19, demand for hydro-alcoholic gel, surgical masks and other medical equipment has exploded, resulting in shortages in several countries. Luxury and fashion conglomerate LVMH re-purposed its factories to produce 12 tonnes of hand sanitizer to be donated to French hospitals.
LVMH hand sanitizers. Photo: @lvhm/Instagram
A number of fashion brands, from the high street all the way to big luxury names, are retooling to produce surgical face masks to protect health workers on the front lines. Prada was one of the first to pivot to manufacturing protective equipment in the fight against the novel coronavirus. The brand committed to producing 80,000 single-use medical overalls and 110,000 masks by April 6.
Prada surgical masks. Photo: Prada Group
The pandemic has also put Dyson on wartime footing. In just a few days, the British company has designed a new ventilator, named CoVent, to help treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients in the UK. The company announced that 10,000 units would be distributed to local health facilities and 5,000 additional ones would be donated internationally.
Dyson CoVent. Photo: Dyson
Now the true implications of the pandemic are becoming more clear to companies all over the world. People’s lives and indeed livelihoods are on the line. Simple things we might overlook in normal times like medical care or paid sick leave are increasingly laid to bare. This is one way some brands are really proving their worth to both their employees and customers whom they rely so much upon.
Tech players have a key role to play during this pandemic, and Facebook is doing its part by extending access to its Community Help feature to new markets worldwide. Through the company’s new COVID-19 Community Help hub, users can either request help in their local area (seeking volunteers for meal distribution, or IT support for the elderly) or provide their assistance to support those in need (offering a free car ride to the supermarket or free online classes). Coinciding with the announcement, Facebook also released “Never Lost”, a short film celebrating the various acts of solidarity we’ve noticed over the past few weeks in the collective fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 25, Budweiser released “One Team”, an emotional ad that pays tribute to all the everyday heroes who are working tirelessly on the coronavirus frontline, from doctors and nurses to teachers and all Americans isolating at home in an effort to flatten the COVID-19 curve. This new spot comes as AB InBev, who owns Budweiser, announced it would reallocate its $5 million sports and entertainment marketing budget to the American Red Cross to support the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The hospitality sector is arguably one of the most heavily-impacted sectors by the pandemic. Yum! Brands CEO David Gibbs is one of the latest senior executives in the industry who will forgo his salary for the balance of 2020. Part of the funds will be converted into one-time $1,000 bonuses for the company’s nearly 1,200 general managers at KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill as an acknowledgement of their efforts during those uncertain times.
Yum! Brands CEO David Gibbs. Photo: Stefanie Smith | CNBC
BE ON MESSAGE
It is incredible to see so many brands throw out their own rule book. In the effort to do something quick like separating their sacred logo designs without a care in the world. Surely it is better to stick to one’s own brand purpose and be true to oneself? The public backlash is clear when there is no real tangible proof of being a good corporate citizen or just seen simply as an opportunist.
With its simple yet powerful copywriting that reinforces the importance of social distancing, supplemented with a $15 million donation towards COVID-19 relief efforts, Nike has ticked many boxes of a crisis-appropriate brand reaction.
Nike play for millions Image: @Nike/Twitter
In the latest installment of its global “Play for the World” campaign, Nike takes us into the houses of star athletes and general sports enthusiasts who’ve switched their fitness routine exclusively indoors, all playing for the health and safety of 7.8 billion of us. This brand seems to always get it right when looking back at all their work, having mostly ended up on the right side of history.
Burger King closed all its restaurants in France mid-March, but the brand remained active on its social media platforms, surprising fast-food fans with a special gift. Knowing that many across the country have extra time on their hand while in isolation and miss the taste of their favourite burger, the brand unveiled the secret to making a Whopper and other of its best-selling sandwiches at home using just a few simple ingredients.
The Quarantine Whopper. Photo: Burger King
While adults are facing all kinds of pressure trying to navigate the COVID-19 new normal, the situation can be even more difficult to understand for young children. To alleviate parents’ stress during containment, Playmobil released an educational video that explains in simple terms what a coronavirus is, how it spreads and why we should stay at home. Created with the little ones in mind.
When people have to practice social distancing or are stuck in their homes due to strict containment measures, consumers are facing high levels of stress and/or loneliness. They have much more time to spend on social media and content platforms than they usually would. Why not lighten the mood for them instead of an EDM from a CEO they have never heard from in months or years until now?
Google Search AR Animals. Image: Andrew Liptak / The Verge
A tiger in your living room? Google is making quarantine a lot more entertaining and maybe even turning some your wildest dreams into (augmented) reality, bringing 3D animals right into your house. Owners of AR-enabled phones can search an animal in Google search and in just a couple clicks project a virtual version anywhere in their room. The functionality also lets users take photos or videos with the animal, offering endless fun for kids currently stuck at home to fight the pandemic.
Despite grim headlines, Chipotle managed to adjust to the new normal while keeping its fun, witty tone of voice. Mid-March, the brand launched a series of daily "Chipotle Together" virtual hangouts on Zoom. Each lunch session features giveaways and appearances from celebrities, delivering some much needed lighthearted content and overall a much-needed escape and distraction from coronavirus-related news.
Faced with the prospect of being in lockdown for weeks or even months, consumers need, now more than ever, support in dealing with the coronavirus-inflicted emotional toll. In a bid to brighten up life in quarantine, iconic guitar manufacturing company Fender has been offering three months of free lessons in guitar, bass and ukulele to the first 100,000 new subscribers to their Fender Play platform. The offer was so popular they extended the trial to the first 500,000 new users. Aspiring musicians who sign up for the special offer can expect high-resolution tutorials that can be viewed anywhere, any time, on any device.
Fender free guitar lessons. Image: Fender
Wherever you look online, creativity rises above all else in the quagmire of despair. Just take a look at the memes your friends are creating online every day to keep themselves sane under quarantine. Yes, everyone is stressed and panicked but through our own creativity, we can provide some much-needed happiness. Maybe we can apply this can-do attitude more in communications.
Celebrities are also lending an emotional helping hand to those stuck at home. Actor John Krasinski recently launched “Some Good News”, a brand new Youtube series which shares uplifting, heartwarming stories that everyone is hungry for as the pandemic continues to spread across the globe. At a time when headlines seem to go from bad to worse, the show is the place to tune in for your weekly fix of positivity, with inspiring interviews and surprise co-star appearances.
The novel coronavirus outbreak has seen major events being cancelled, including some life milestones such as graduation ceremonies and weddings. While some of those real-life events had to be called off, people found creative ways to celebrate together virtually through...video games. Entire campuses, auditoriums have been reconstructed in Minecraft in the last few days, with students tuning in live to participate in mock graduation ceremonies.
Minecraft graduation ceremony. Photo: @BACKYENNEW//Twitter
In a move that disrupts with traditional political communication standards, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took to Facebook Live to interact with citizens hours after her government announced nationwide lockdown measures. She opened the session saying: “I thought that I would just jump online quickly and just check in with everyone really as we all prepare to hunker down for a few weeks.”, answering direct questions from viewers about the new regulations from her bedroom.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Image: CNN
- Actions speak loudest. Take care of your employees and customers first.
- Retool your products and services that add REAL value to people’s lives.
Be on message.
- Stay true to your brand purpose and create messaging that matches.
- Lighten the mood. Everyone knows things are bad. Stop reminding them.
- Creative solutions to production limitations like your friends on Instagram.
Lastly, as everyone is hunkered down doing their best to cope with all that is going on. Please wash your hands regularly, maintain social distancing, avoid touching your face, seek medical care early if you feel unwell. And if you haven’t already watched ‘Tiger King’ on Netflix try to as soon as possible. You’ll feel a whole lot better (At least for a moment).