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United States
DateMarch 30, 2020
ByAvra Lorrimer
ServiceStrategic Communications
SectorConsumer Goods & Retail
Reading time5mins

Do brands have a place in a COVID-19 world?

This article was originally posted on her LinkedIn here.

It’s a weird time to work in brand PR. Just a few weeks ago, events featuring pastel ball pits were considered “instagrammable” and made perfect sense in the context of making brands “relevant” and “engaging.” Meanwhile that same ball pit today looks like a cesspool of germs and may be downright deadly.

At moments like this you start to question the relevance of brands all together. When a parched woman stumbles out of the desert, she asks for a water, not an Evian, right? At times of crisis, a brand is a luxury, not a necessity.

For some, brands are about the reliability of a consistent experience, but these days, as much as you appreciate the premium experience of multi-ply toilet paper you are going to buy whatever is left on the shelf. For others, brands are a badge – choosing a specific brand makes you feel cooler, younger, more sophisticated or gives you the assurance that you are a great parent (because we’ve all been indoctrinated that buying the right brand of peanut butter signifies you are a good mom…). But these days, as we’re all stuck in isolation – who are you really proving yourself to?

More recently brands have entered a new terrain – the age of “brandstanding,” using their platform to challenge societal norms and for some, having the confidence to advocate for a controversial point of view. But at this rare moment in history, when the globe is unified against a common enemy, taking a stand feels expected not exceptional.

So, in the sterile, lonely reality of Covid-19, what’s a brand to do?

At this moment, I think back on a period when I was most overwhelmed – when I had my daughter and spent the first few months in an exhausted haze of confusion. Lots of people came to visit – many bearing gifts, and all with good intentions – but the ones who really stood out were not the ones who asked if they could help, but the ones who came in and just started helping – whether it was holding the baby so I could have a break or tidying the piles of diapers, onesies and parenting books that had accumulated throughout my living room.

My point is, now is a moment when brands can help. And they don’t need to ask permission or for direction, they just need to act. We have moved from brand as badge to brand as activist to brand as helper.

Many brands and businesses have been what I call Helpful with a capital H – making a meaningful contribution to the battle against coronavirus. They are donating products to those in need and pivoting production in order to create desperately needed goods – like L’Oreal using their facilities to make hand sanitizer and the clothing brands, ranging from GAP to Gucci, who are commendably creating protective masks for health workers. Even Anheuser-Busch has gone from hops to hand sanitizer using their supply and logistics chain to produce and distribute hand sanitizer across the U.S.

While goods are great, cash is always appreciated, and some brands are taking action through donations. Many businesses and brands have made generous donation to support COVID-19 efforts, but perhaps the ones that will be best remembered are those that are aligned with a brand’s purpose – both functional and higher order. A great example of this is Miller Lite’s #VirtualTipJar campaign to raise money for bar tenders who are inevitably out of work, and the company has backed that up by putting one million very real dollars in that virtual jar.

There is also great value in smaller gestures – helping with a ‘little h’. Disney+ is has released Frozen II early, which I’m sure is appreciated by the parents of polyester blue dress-clad children everywhere. And for those whose kids prefer speed to snow queens, Ford (who is creating lifesaving materials including ventilators, respirators and PPE) is also being helpful with a hub for families filled with interactive activities. Perhaps my favorite example is Popeyes – they are giving a Netflix username and password to the first 1,000 customers who tweet a picture of their at-home fried chicken order with the hashtag #ThatPasswordFromPopeyes. They are being helpful by helping chicken lovers pass the time with a free Netflix subscription, but they helped me by making me smile with an entertaining activation.

Thank you to the brands who are helping – to those who are keeping us safe and to those who are keeping us sane. We may not be buying much now, but I believe these brands will be remembered and rewarded when we get through this.