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How Brands Are Getting Their Messaging Right and Wrong Amidst The COVID-19 Storm

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the entire world into a level of stress that this current generation – on the average – has not seen before.

There was the market crash of the year 2008 – but at least, we were not locked down because of that. There have been some issues along the line too, but none as deadly as this. When we say deadly, we mean that both literally and figuratively.

At times like this, some are advising that brands should stay back and watch things play out. At the same time, it is rightly argued that the brands have to be there for the people in such trying times.

Looking at both models, we take a look at how brands have shaped their messaging during these crises – and how that is playing out for everyone.

Subtle Communications

We have found out that in marketing, you can sometimes say a lot by not saying anything. That is probably why brands of today have started investing highly into their image alongside their message too.

With the current pandemic rocking the world, we have seen a series of brands make a strong message without really saying anything.

At the front line of this battle are the healthcare workers who are doing their all to ensure those who have come in contact with the virus can survive it. At the same time, they are trying to ensure that other people do not contribute to the spread of the virus.

After all, these healthcare systems are already stretched thin as it is.

Thus, brands like McDonald’s have reworked their logo in such a way that suggests distancing. Even Coca-Cola went the same way with its brand name which has an obvious space between all the characters right now.

If the big brands can do something like that, best believe that the people will notice. When people notice, they will know to obey the social distancing rule.

Seeing the global reach of these two brands alone, their message can reach a wider audience than if it was just the healthcare providers spreading the message.

This is almost the same thing as what is happening with the brands in the next section.

Direct Communications

Sometimes, you just have to hit the nail on the head.

That is what we have seen with the likes of Nike that have quickly adopted a new slogan for this period.

Anyone who has known Nike’s branding message for a while now will agree that they are big on having fun and playing your favorite sports. With this pandemic, Nike recognizes the fact that sports fans from all around the world can no longer enjoy all their games the way they want anymore. However, they are not about to take your fun away too.

Guess what they did, then? Ask people to keep playing – only indoors this time.

This is a powerful message of support and solidarity that brings everyone together under the play-at-home calendar. Better still, they are also pushing the message of social distancing as above.

Another notable brand to mention here is Amul – the dairy company from India. Having turned its marketing and ad efforts into asking people to wash their hands regularly and avoid contact, they are also helping to ensure the spread is curtailed as the infected ones are taken care of.

Process Conversion

Perhaps one of the most powerful moves we have seen by companies in this time is the conversion of their resources into the creation of needed supplies. Tesla is one such company that has been able to leverage on its electric car manufacturing models and processes to create ventilators.

This pandemic shows that even though there are ample ventilators in some developed parts of the world, we do not have enough to handle something of this scale. Medical supply companies are also overwhelmed at the time, seeing the number of units that they would need to produce to meet the demands.

Thus, it was just right that the companies that could help would step forward.

On the other business end of things, we have seen fashion brands like Christian Soriano and Karla Coletto change their production line and processes to allow them to create face masks for the public and healthcare workers instead. The best part of this is that they will be making these products available for free instead of trying to turn a profit.

Facebook has also started setting information centers up in different countries where the virus has hit to ensure an adequate flow of adequate and accurate information. Since one of the best ways to fight this plague is by keeping the people rightly informed, that is just what they will leverage their News Feed section for.

For those who cannot change their production processes in this way, we have seen them go the way of…


Besides the ad campaign for social distancing from Nike, they have also committed a massive $15 million to the COVID-19 initiative. Anything it takes to kick the plague out, that is.

They are not the only brand to have done so too. If we were to start listing all the businesses and personal entities that have donated huge sums to the eradication of this coronavirus problem, we could have another article on its own here.

What we loved most about the donations was that this did not turn into a popularity contest. Most of the brands were, thus, inspired to put what they could afford towards the clearing of the pandemic too.

Donations are also trooping in in the form of food and supplies for the people who cannot afford those, healthcare workers who need more supplies than they are getting, and more.

Plain Ol’ Messaging

In the middle of all that, reaching out to your customers via existing channels is also one thing that must not be ruled out.

Of course, they see all that you are doing. However, do not forget that this is the age of personalization.

Reach out to them to know how they are doing. If you are one of those core services, let them know how much you are still there for them.

If there would be any break in your operations, communicate to the customers ahead. Even though everything else is in lockdown or very slow-moving right now, there are still some functions that have to be kept alive. Never leave your clients/ customers hanging if you are one of such businesses.

Where Brands Are Getting It Wrong

For all that we have said above, you would think that everyone is getting their COVID-19 messages right. That could not be farther from the truth.

Since this pandemic started, we believe that you must have gotten quite a lot of mails too. Take a look at the subject lines of most of those emails and you will come across brands that just seem tone-deaf to all that is going on around them these days.

In the opening part of this piece, we mentioned how it was argued that brands take a step back from communication. That should have been the portion of some companies that have leveraged the situation to advertise their product.

This is what we have seen with the likes of Circle.Life which launched a mock ad with something that looked like a Dettol bottle. Instead of the antiseptic, though, they had ‘Data’ on the container.

As if that image enough was not distasteful, they went on to add a message on the lines of “we might not… protect you against 99.9% of germs… but we can definitely protect you 100% against telco contracts.” We bet you feel your skin crawling too.

A grey area in these times is with brands that are offering their products for free over a limited period.

This can be seen with the likes of Zoom, Loom, Salesforce, Google, and Microsoft making some of their products free, subsidized or more palatable to the public in these times. The same can be said for U-Haul which is said to be providing a free 30-day storage plan for students who were displaced as a result of the virus.

On the one hand, that will make the lives of those who need these services better. In the long run, though, is this an empathic game or one directed at acquiring more customers with the guide of helping out?

While that can be deemed debate for another day, a worse category of brands is the ones that are pretending nothing is happening at all. They are going about their marketing like it is just another day at the office.

New ad copies are being rolled out, fresh email funnels are being developed and the consumer is being nudged to make a purchase. For someone who might have just been laid off work, might have lost a loved one or is just thinking about where their lives would be at the end of this all, such messages are more than a little insensitive.

Getting it Right

Marketers and branding experts need to understand the sensitivity of the matter we are currently dealing with.

We have seen some companies who had to pull spots that they had run before the pandemic hit at all. That was just because they felt the message in those spots goes against the current clime of the world. If they could make such decisions, no brand should be caught getting into such murky waters now that we are in the middle of this storm.

Every message, every brand body language, and every public interaction now has to be triple checked before being sent out. After all, a simple mistake right now could mar your brand – and the right moves could set you up for more success when all this is over.

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