The Pandemic Effect on Brand Marketing
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.
Too Late to Pull What's Scheduled
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.
Feeling the Need to do Something
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.
Stay Home, Do Your Part
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.
Providing Hope for the Future
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.
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!
Supporting Those in Need
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.
Recover with Purpose
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.