30th June 2020

Oh, for crisis sake. 

Oh, for crisis sake.

The world and his/her/their wife/husband/significant other (think I've covered everything off there) have been posting on LinkedIn over the past three months (might be more, might be less – I don’t even know if it’s day or night anymore, I had crunchy nut for dinner last night and pizza for breakfast this morning) about how to successfully advertise during a global crisis.

Big or small, companies have the same agenda…

It’s been a bit of an interesting rollercoaster and one hell of a PR exercise for some of the world’s biggest brands. It’s also served as an equal platform for start-ups and smaller brands trying to grab some of the limelight – big or small, companies have the same agenda… Be front of mind when this thing goes away. I’ve always been a bit of a cynic about the good PR vs good marketing argument – how many marketing teams genuinely want to do good (for the world, that is)? You can bet your favourite item of clothing that quarterly catch-ups don’t start with ‘what size shoe fills their new and improved carbon footprint’ or ‘how much of their profit has been donated to local charities’.

I’ve always been a bit of a cynic about the good PR vs good marketing argument.

There has been a smorgasbord (if that makes it through proofing, I’ll be amazed) of ad offerings and I wanted to pick out some of my favourites, all for very different reasons. I don’t claim to be the judge, jury and executioner of successful campaigns, I do work in the industry, but more importantly I am a consumer. I buy things, because of how they are marketed – I even judge myself for doing it. I find myself using contactless payment methods whilst rolling my eyes with the Disgust character from Disney’s ‘Inside Out’ inside my head shouting ‘you’ve fallen for it, again!’ at me.

Brands are starting to publicly put their best foot forward – I have seen great examples over the past few months of brands trying to occupy different pockets of the advertising space by striking emotive chords with consumers – the first example that springs to mind is Heineken and their #connections ad. Simply, it makes sense – it’s relatable and isn’t trying to win any social responsibility awards, I don’t feel cheated that I am enjoying it and most of the things in the ad have actually happened to me. Dropping a phone on your face hurts, I get it!

Another brand that has used the opportunity well is Nurture Brands vegetable crisp brand EMILY. They had planned to release their very first EMILY outdoor ad campaign during the first week of lock down, which obviously they weren’t aware of when booking the media! Instead of mass panic and any elaborate cover-ups, they owned the situation and went with it anyway amending the messaging and posting about the mishap online which gained huge traction and engagement. Very clever. If I was into vegetable crisps, these would be my vegetable crisps of choice (what?!).

Adidas and Nike are both giants of the sporting world, their reach is global and they are amongst the world’s most recognised brands. In a new world, where ignorance is no longer an excuse in the battle against the ongoing crisis, they have used social platforms to encourage positive behavioural changes with their respective #hometeam and #playinside campaigns. For me, this is less about the creativity behind the campaigns and more about the fact they are taking responsibility – using their combined social reach to educate and inform.

I’m not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination these brands are doing the most to combat the crisis, or are doing more than the average brand to help move us though it – merely that they have successfully stuck their head above the parapet.

We recently posted about how important a brand’s perception and position is in our branding blog, in scenarios like this, brands that have been created well, market well. None of the above ads are working too hard, they have just adjusted accordingly – there are no earth shattering ideas, just good execution and discussable content. Essentially, a lot of these adverts are using the same formula as Christmas adverts – the brands want to be spoken about and leverage something everyone has in common (obviously Christmas and coronavirus are very, very different. Presents would be good though).

there are no earth shattering ideas, just good execution and discussable content.

It’s also been really interesting to watch how brands have conducted themselves when celebrating their own contributions. Car brands like Vauxhall and SEAT have adjusted facilities to help produce medical equipment for our well documented shortfalls and brands like Brewdog have used their distillery to produce hand sanitiser. Striking the right tone is difficult, you’re essentially humble bragging about a selfless act… Which makes no sense at all!

What Brewdog did well is that they were one of the first out the gate, which makes it all the more impressive. We’re not talking about a reactive post akin to Halfords advertising antifreeze if it randomly snowed in June – these guys physically transformed a manufacturing plant in what seemed like no time at all. In the weeks that followed, I saw brand after brand pulling out the stops to do their bit, but will they be remembered? Unfortunately, probably not. The early bird gets the worm! In this case, the bird is Brewdog. The early Brewdog gets the worm! Catchy.

Which has been the most impactful approach? Short term, the humble brag approach appeals to the masses, but I’m not sure people are going to be hopping into an Astra or buying Pale Ale because of the selfless acts – it’s probably done more for brand perception than actively seeing a decent return on investment. For me, brands that have stuck to their own – believing in their values and personality and have been advertising in an authentic and understanding way are the brands that have won the day, or 80 odd days it’s been since BoJo slammed the metaphorical door on my spring adventure plans.

Still, Espresso Martinis can wait. For now.

it’s probably done more for brand perception than actively seeing a decent return on investment.

The next stage will be the recovery effort from all the brands actively damaged by the last few months, we’ve already seen brands like KFC come out with the #welltakeitfromhere campaign before opening 600 stores in the UK. If there is any upside to what we’re currently all working through is that it’s like a marketing playground out there at the minute, ads of all shapes and sizes trying to achieve the same thing… It makes for good viewing!

No more zoom video recorded adverts though, please.


Author: Toby Bryan
Senior Account Manager