Gurjant Pannu writes on how brands should respond in difficult times such as these.

With the coronavirus capturing the global spotlight as the world population goes through a once-in-a-generation challenge caused by the pandemic, brands are facing a unique dilemma.

How do brands respond in such difficult times? Should they market themselves as usual to assure consumers and provide a semblance of normal life or evolve their marketing strategy to incorporate advice on measures to fight the pandemic?

While brands want to go the distance and play a responsible role in overcoming the contagion, it has also been noticed that since the whole world is already preoccupied with news about the coronavirus, if brands talk about it too it makes the consumers jittery.

While a lot of global brands have come up with witty tag lines and evolved their social media strategies by focussing on the importance of social distancing, the advertisements also run the risk of looking repetitive as car manufacturers have shown visuals of empty roads to the background score of piano music.

BMW’s “The only curve that matters,” Nissan’s “Ode to empty roads” or Volvo’s “Stay Home. Stay Safe” campaign can look similar and also run the risk of appearing insincere.

Some ads such as the recent KFC campaign which showed people licking their fingers as they are the company’s signature fried chicken had to be taken off air in the UK as people found it offensive. The company’s long-running tagline “It’s finger lickin good” also appeared out of place as hand hygiene has become the norm as a preventive measure against coronavirus.

A clear outcome of all this is that since people are locked inside their homes, social media will become more important with more and more people watching brand behaviour online.

Studies have shown that Twitter should be the place for brands if they want to engage their users in serious talk about the coronavirus as people who log on to that platform are interested in discussing about the virus and listening to advice on social distancing.

Research by Twitter showed that 64 per cent of respondents wanted brands to advertise as usual and 52 per cent agreed that seeing or hearing ads gave them a sense of normality. While 77 per cent respondents agreed they feel more positively about brands making an effort to support society at the moment but only seven per cent said they should maintain their normal business tone.

Instagram is good for social distancing posts in a concise way as only a few words along with a photo keeps the users engaged while on Facebook people are more interested to get information on the pandemic.

Maybe now it is time for brands to move on from the sombre ads highlighting the tragic situation which they did initially and focus on rebuilding their customer base such as the sports apparel brand Reebok which ran a campaign for providing customised home workouts with the equipment people have at home.

Here are some things brands could do

  • Stay topical- Get customer insights on how they associate with your brands’ messaging
  • Be innovative- Experiment with new ‘tone of voice’ to stay relevant and engaging
  • Be sincere- let the brand story not get hijacked by product placements. Remember if the customer loves your brand, they will find a way to get your products in their basket.
  • Be hopeful- in all the gloom and doom, people who are consuming your content need to see/ hear things that allow them to bookmark positive messages.
  • Be Responsible- remember this crisis is like none other in recent memory and the only way out is through responsible social behaviour. Encourage better health and hygiene practices that customers will recall as part of your brand’s core promise.

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