Please Don’t Pandemicize Your Brand: Marketing in the Time of COVID-19

One thing the business community can agree on: no one knows how to adapt to the coronavirus, especially in marketing. We don’t know who needs to hear this, but just in case: please resist the urge to pandemicize your brand.  You may have already seen companies shoehorning references to the pandemic into their ads and…

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One thing the business community can agree on: no one knows how to adapt to the coronavirus, especially in marketing.

We don’t know who needs to hear this, but just in case: please resist the urge to pandemicize your brand. 

You may have already seen companies shoehorning references to the pandemic into their ads and social campaigns. Don’t do that. Now is not the time to hitch your wagon to an unprecedented global emergency to sell shoes.  

As Hollywood publicist and crisis communications expert Howard Bragman shared with the New York Times recently, clumsy attempts to tie your product to COVID19 could do as much damage as pretending the world hasn’t changed at all.

“We’re all getting these marketing messages in our feeds that feel really gross — trying to sell us things we don’t need by slapping on an ‘in these difficult times’ at the start of the pitch,” Bragman told the Times. “It’s okay to say nothing for awhile.”

If that means you need to retool your content schedule, or even jettison some long-planned jewels, so be it. Ultimately, that’s better for your brand than sending out a message like this one from a recent email we received: “In today’s uncertain economic landscape, tracking the workforce lifecycle is more important now than ever.” 

Such a message could’ve done with a quick tone check. In a time when 17 million Americans have lost their jobs and over 25,000 have died due to the coronavirus, tracking the workforce lifecycle sounds, on multiple levels, ominous.  

Okay, so what should brands do, then?

Greg Daake, principal of Omaha-based design and rebranding firm Daake, whose clients have included Nebraska Medicine and the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, recommends brands go “beyond economics and into humanity.” This will require some introspection.

In an email to SPN, Daake wrote: “People have never been more open than right now, around the world. We must design our way forward. It’s a pivotal moment…what do you really, truly want? What do you really, truly stand for? What good can you bring into the world? How do you help your customers become the best versions of themselves?”

Aside from such soul-searching, pricing, payment plans, delivery methods and the like are good things to think about. The Startup Collaborative has shared some great tips on how to adjust to this unprecedented moment. Check them out here.

If it sounds like we’re saying to stop marketing until this all blows over, we’re not. We’re saying stop marketing poorly. 

Be mindful of the state of the world. Have some empathy for your customer. What does the world look like through their eyes? They might not be thinking long-term right now. They might be worried about their health or the health of someone they love. They’re almost certainly worried about their bank account. 

What’s something useful you can tell them? Are you offering discounts? Payment plans? Refunds? Or are you just hammering the same message, prefaced with lip-service to people’s fears?

Whatever you do, avoid jokes about toilet paper. Those were old by March.

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