Whether it has been out of necessity, or better yet out of purpose, many brands have seen their traditional business models disrupted by COVID-19 in a monumental way. Brands are the result of people making decisions and taking action, and how those people have responded will likely impact how their communities respond to their brands now and in the future. Over the course of these past 7 weeks of physical distancing, it has become clear there have been many instances of empathy / humanity but also some of complete insensitivity and profiteering. Given we could all use some good news, we'll focus on highlighting the positive side of brand marketing during a global health crisis.
Craft Breweries & Distilleries
Perhaps it's in their DNA as small local businesses, but craft breweries and distilleries immediately rose to the occasion to support their communities. Modifications to their distillation or brewing machinery allowed these businesses to produce hand sanitizer or disinfectant with little disruption to their production facilities.
Photo Courtesy of Collective Arts Brewing
Notably, small batch distiller Dillon's made the move and within days had shipped hand sanitizer and disinfectant to service professionals, police, healthcare workers in the Niagara region within days. Another golden horseshoe favourite, Collective Arts Brewing is doubling down on its commitment to supporting artists and creative fields with its MORE. charitable initiative. Supporting the geographic and ideologic communities that supported the ascension of these brands has made their giving back most meaningful.
Of course, these businesses can't keep the lights on by only giving money away. Both have introduced direct to consumer shipping through their online stores with next day delivery. This bypasses the LCBO's current 2+ weeks delay on home deliveries. D2C delivery may be in response to COVID-19, but rest assured it's not going anywhere.
Photo Courtesy of Bauer.com
Considering physical distancing in Canada means staying a hockey stick length away from one another, it seems only natural that hockey equipment company Bauer was among the first brands to recognize not a lot of hockey was going to be played anytime soon, and quickly pivoted its production facilities to making single-use protective shields for frontline medical workers - with plans openly available for download. The shift from producing visors and shields for hockey helmets to protective shields for medical workers was not calculated corporate move, but recognition that the company could support a societal need and an ensuing swift response. For its efforts, its immediate action has earned Bauer consistent call outs from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Many people have a pair (or two) of these Brazilian summer footwear staples and with Brazil being significantly impacted by COVID-19, the iconic brand stepped up in a big way to support relief efforts in the South American country. Havaianas have repurposed local factories to make PPE, hand sanitizer, and test kits, while also donating 100,000 kits of essential goods (shoes, hygiene products, food) to vulnerable populations. The brand even donated a sound system to a local radio station to ensure messaging about the appropriate preventative measures can be clearly heard. Not bad for a company that makes flip flops. By understanding the specific needs of the communities the brand serves, Havaianas was able to respond with swift and substantial action in a way that made a difference to the lives of people that have made this brand what it is.
Photo Courtesy of Vessifootwear.ca
Vancouver-based shoe company Vessi put the power in the hands (or feet) of the people with their response to COVID-19. By empowering shoppers with a pay-what-you-can model, Vessi donates PPE according to the level of discount selected by the customer on each purchase. The greater the donation of face masks for frontline medical workers, the less the savings for the individual. Judging by the current (lack of) inventory, this is a phenomenal example of a social enterprise. Putting the power in people's hands has resulted in the brand selling its product and also in donating a significant amount of vital PPE.
The popular Canadian band Arkells aren't a brand in the sense of the others on this list, but they've pivoted from their traditional offering and have been a consistent source of hope, education, and positivity with their flatten the curve music class (#FTCmusicclass) daily on Instagram live. These sessions often feature famous special guests, occasionally provide direct support to charitable initiatives like local food banks and ultimately serve to bring disparate communities together around music. Live Nation's Live From Home has turned the promoter of live events and concert venues to a promoter of live streams, including Arkells and many other artists. It's a necessary pivot, but the hub helps to connect artists and their fans when physical distancing prevents doing so for in-person performances.
Photo Courtesy of @arkellsmusic Instagram
The past two months have in some ways been the longest of many people's lives, while for some they disappeared in a flash. For marketers, both are true. The balancing act that is marketing during the most severe global health and economic crisis of our lifetime is an incredible challenge. The response to marketing during the pandemic has already passed through several stages - some we'll look back on more fondly than others.
Content calendars chalked full of scheduled posts are a real part of marketing, and when brands weren't quick enough to press pause on those posts, the backlash was swift and unforgiving. Looking back, we think people will generally realize we were collectively a bit hard on the people behind these very human missteps.
KFC's unfortunately timed creative around their finger lickin' good slogan, when the public was urged to not touch one's face, was a casualty of this phase. The campaign was sensibly pulled very quickly - albeit after several hundred complaints.
Image Courtesy of KFC | UK
Once existing campaigns were put on hold, then we started the race to do something. anything really. The something wasn't often well thought out, nor sensitive to those impacted. This was the regrettable phase in pandemic marketing. Let's just say logo-spacing came and went pretty fast.
Image Courtesy of VISA | Instagram
After the urgency and the rushed nature of the first few phases, we reached a stage of some more well thought out marketing tactics, which centred on individuals being able to take simple actions that can have an impact and on the shared experience of 'being in this together'. With 'this' being the pandemic, but also our respective homes. Staying at home meant content shot on iPhones made it into global marketing campaigns, with the message that even those that are larger than life, like Team VISA athletes, are at home washing their hands too.
This stage saw brands move beyond shifting tactics and into strategic brand building. We saw well planned and executed initiatives that were not meant to drive sales today, but to make a real impact for their brand in the long-term. Nike's massively coordinated campaign, leveraging sponsored athletes, teams and associations around the world, to communicate the message to Play for the World was certainly gave us hope.
Image from Nike | Twitter
Our collectively short attention spans, made even shorter with more free time, have sped up cycles of marketing content consumption. So, when focusing on making heroes of people who managed to stay home became played out, we arrived at the 'Thank you' stage, sending thanks to those making real meaningful impact. Brands began taking action to use their marketing resources to thank their employees, healthcare workers and other essential services. Given then sacrifices these people are making for the rest of us, it's the least we could do!
There has been a RUSH of brands that have reached this stage. Some were empathetic enough to get to this stage very early on and we strongly believe it will pay dividends for their business in the long run. The best examples combine speed of action and authenticity to their brand - a concept which we've discussed before. Some of the most admirable acts of support are those made in the background because it was the right thing to do and didn't risk appear token or like an opportunistic PR opportunity. In tough economic times, it takes courage & compassion to put others before profit. Kudos to every company supporting those in need.
We're not there, yet. But we're getting close. At some point, we as a society are going to figure out what going out in public looks like, what our consumption habits will be, and what gathering together and sharing experiences might entail. Being an active participant in supporting this recovery, by building purpose and empathy into marketing will be the best way forward. Let's learn from this shared experience and when it's time, recover with purpose.
Sport captivates the public like little else can - and athletes are the centre of that emotional appeal. For sponsors - forging connections between a brand & an athlete enables that brand to promote its values in association with the athlete while also humanizing the brand's story.
Image Courtesy of the Jordan Brand
Take C&C client Kia Nurse for instance. Kia joined the Jordan family in 2019 making her only one of three women to sign an exclusive deal with the brand. Kia’s resume shows no surprise as to why the brand and athlete relationship sync. Dynamic & elite are two traits that connect Nurse and the Jordan brand. Both the best at what they do, with a lot of personality. This year you’ve seen Nurse rock Jordan brand shoes in a way that encompasses her personality #shoegamestrong, with the mindset to be the best.
What it means for Kia to be part of the Jordan brand. “As our game continues to evolve, everything around it has to evolve, as well. Jordan Brand has really stepped up to give us new technology and designs. MJ’s legacy allowed so many of us to follow our dreams in basketball. It’s an absolute honour to be a part of this family — one that represents so many great things about culture and being the greatest you can be.” The sky is the limit for the WNBA star.
Cimoroni & Company's Russ Gray spends his days creating meaningful connections between brands and athletes - something he is passionate about. "The 2020 WNBA season gave this great partnership an opportunity to marry performance and personality. Jordan's ability to create shoe design after shoe design that showcased what Kia is all about, while also physically enabling her to dominate on the court, was truly unique. From 'Dunkaroos' to 'The Hammer', Kia's personality shined through her kicks every day."
The Arctic Winter Games is a high-profile sport competition for northern and arctic athletes. The Games create opportunity and strengthen sport development while promoting the importance of sport and building partnerships with a focus on promoting culture and values. CF Management’s, Brooke Voigt has been named the 2022 Games Ambassador, whose impact has played a significant role as a professional snowboarder during the beginning of her career.
General Manager of the 2022 Games, Kim Rizzi sees Brooke as a “prime example of dedication to sport and athletic excellence making her a wonderful role model for AWG athletes and all youth of the circumpolar north. This partnership showcases our pride in Brooke and the strength of the Arctic Winter Games legacy as we prepare to shine together.”
CEO of CF Management, Connor Finlay weighs in on what he believes the trajectory is heading in terms of athlete partnerships. "I believe athlete and brand relationships will only become more and more vital to a brand's marketing mix in the years to come. With the current situation with live sports and COVID-19, I believe brands will take a deeper dive into working with athletes to engage with their target demographic and audience on a more personal level. With brands having limited opportunities for onsite activations, I believe leveraging athletes' true engagement with their fans will only become more prevalent. Finding new ways to connect with brands and tell positive stories will bring a new light to more and more athletes and their sports. We're proud of the partnership we just completed with The Arctic Winter Games and Brooke. A positive and new way to tell an impactful story over digital for the next two years."
Athlete and brand partnerships add authentic exposure and awareness that improves brand image, creates further connections, engages consumers and creates a real differentiator for a brand. Brands working with athletes are only going to enhance the way consumers perceive those companies and influence purchase tendencies. Results which will continue to be game changing.