By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

There’s been a lot going on that we’re trying to understand about this global pandemic. A lot of marketers are in a situation where they need to pay close attention to their advertisements and really stay focused on where their customers are at, and they need to pay attention to rapid changes in society. 

When the Coronavirus crisis began, Twitter was quick to put out information guiding brands to following best practices. Facebook went out and banned ads for face masks because they wanted to avoid people taking advantage of the public and ensure that the masks went to the people who needed them the most. These actions reflect well on these social media companies. 

The first thing that marketers had to do was look at the ads that they had planned and determine if they were still appropriate. Another important consideration was to take a look at any ads with prices that adjust to demand and make sure that they did not and will not get exorbitantly high due to increased demand. This reduces the risk that your company is perceived to be price gouging, which reflects very poorly. 

One example of an advertisement that was pulled came from KFC. They had finger lickin’ ads that came out in a time when people were very sensitive about washing their hands and not touching their face. In our current climate, you have to make sure that you’re sensitive to what the culture is sensitive to and to make sure you are aligned with it. You have to be consumer-centric. 

So if a company tells you that they have an important message during these times, then that message needs to actually be important. One example comes from an article by Augie Ray titled, “Beware of Virtual Signaling Or Outright Greed In Brand Communications About COVID-19.” In this example, he describes that if you get an email from your mortgage company, you don’t expect them to declare that they’re safe and sanitizing their desks, instead you’d expect to hear about things relevant to you paying your mortgage like if they can help with issues paying, if there are consequences to being late with payment, or if there are any assistant programs. 

In the past week, we’ve seen a gradual shift in society in the U.S. where we’ve been discouraged from gathering outside. This shift creates a tricky time for restaurants and bars in terms of promoting people going out. Some companies missed the mark, like the CEO of Adidas who declared that staying open required “courage, persistence, and focus.” That message might have been okay a week ago, but it wasn’t appropriate given the current climate. 

In order to stay on top of the culture as a retailer, focus on advertising your delivery services and communicate about products that help ease customer concerns. Ford did a good job of this by transitioning advertisements focused on sales to ads for car payment relief. 

Many brands have been accommodating, and that will reflect well on them when this difficult time passes. Spectrum extended free internet to students who need to attend school at home. U-haul offered 30 days of free storage to students, and Peloton extended their free trial to 90 days. These companies are giving their customers an opportunity to increase their connection with the brand, and this will help build loyalty. 

Marketers always need to think about their customer’s needs, but this is particularly important during our current scenario where customer needs have changed rapidly and will continue to change rapidly. 

If you’re interested in hearing more about what marketers can do during these difficult times, we’re hosting a webinar on April 1st 10 AM Central. You can sign up here.

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