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Advertising In Crisis

How brands and marketers should respond to coronavirus

Nathan Allebach
Nathan Allebach Creative Director
The Steak-umm Twitter Guy
Adweek Top 100 Creative

The coronavirus has infected every aspect of our lives. Our loved ones, small businesses, our global economies, governments, and our entire online discourse. People are on edge and exhausted, but they can’t look away from the screen. Updates are constant and confusing. Misinformation is everywhere. Some companies are cutting hours, some are going out of business, and others can’t keep up with demand as their products literally fly off the shelves from panic purchases.

The big question everyone in marketing is asking right now is what’s the appropriate response in this crisis? The question is a test that demonstrates how well we know the companies we represent—how to show people you’re helping without exploiting the virus for profit, how to keep trust in a time of uncertainty, how to offer relief in time of crisis, and how to support your employees, coworkers, and consumers. Every brand has a responsibility to communicate clearly and honestly right now. It’s a time to help people, not sell to them. Many brands are pulling insensitive ads, others are reworking their entire brand voice for the moment. Some are going radio silent, some are switching into PSA mode, some are launching charity campaigns, and others are acting like nothing is happening.

Guinness released an ad trying to lift spirits around the somber St. Patrick’s Day, saying “we’ll march again” with a pledge to donate $500k to local communities. Similarly, Jameson announced they would be donating $500k to the United States Bartender’s Guild. Ford announced that Ford Credit customers can defer payments. Burger King offered 2 free kids meals with any purchase. Sling TV is providing free news and entertainment content. Amazon set up a $5 million dollar fund to help small businesses, while Facebook is giving away $100 million in ads and cash grants to small businesses. Virtually every major company has taken some action by now, big or small.

In the age of social media, brands have entwined into every aspect of our lives, humanizing themselves, becoming a regular part of pop culture, and boosting the online economy with advertiser dollars to keep our social media usage free. Due to this integration and personal connection, they’re socially obligated to participate amidst this crisis. For years now we’ve seen brands take on new life through meme-centric twitter accounts, personified mascots, influencers, and beyond. Now we’re seeing them shift those voices amidst crisis and put their money where their mouth is.

The majority of people are just looking for solidarity in these trying times. If your brand isn’t tonedeaf and offers that to people in some genuine, helpful form, they’ll accept it. This is a chance for brands to embody their values through action, to be a positive influence in their community and to continue to build trusted relationships. Outside of monetary support, offer something of substance. Provide credible updates. Share helpful tips. Remind people to go on walks, exercise, meditate, and anything else that offers mental clarity. Don’t be afraid to offer up basic needs to people, like food, sanitation products, or entertainment. Everyone is looking for comfort right now.

Inaction is still an action. How is your brand responding? The world is watching.

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