The power of big ideas for brands during a crisis

Steve Caunce
By Steve Caunce | 15 April 2020
Steve Caunce

Steve Caunce is Group Strategy Manager with Nine’s Client Solutions Division, Powered.

Celebrating the Good
The novel coronavirus outbreak is causing one of the most widespread behavioural shifts in recent times. This virus, with its alarming expansion, is instilling fear and anxiety into the hearts and minds of consumers right across the globe.

Behavioural science tells us that a natural fear of the unknown has contributed to the enormity of this behavioural shift we are seeing with Aussie consumers. These changes have obvious implications for consumption, as well as the brands that serve consumption.

Now more than ever brands need to pivot their communications, ensuring that they engage positively and proactively with consumers, and contribute to allaying their fears. Safety and trust must be integral to brands’ DNA if they are to make it through to the other side of this pandemic with increased market share, high-performing brand metrics and a healthier bottom line.

A predicament facing a range of marketers right now in Australia, given that they have invested so heavily before the crisis, is whether they should continue to advertise with their usual hard-sell tone or match consumer moods, acknowledging the stress and uncertainty that consumers are facing. Or whether they should even advertise at all. It makes complete sense that the brands staying the course and showing support to their consumers will be the ones that will be positively remembered.

During these difficult times, positive, well-framed communication, coupled with  to strengthen their bonds with customers, ultimately future-proofing themselves in their hearts and minds.

At a time when some brands are pulling back, there lies a perfect opportunity for other brands to increase not only their share of voice, but also their share of market. Media owners worldwide are seeing brands from a whole host of categories pulling advertising left, right and centre. The reality is, however, that there has never been a better time to focus on brand – but with a message that is sensitive to the current climate and empathetic to the moods of consumers.

A good example of this is Ford in the USA who pulled and replaced all of its product advertising to become brand-focused comms. “It’s important to be reassuring right now and not trying to say to people ‘Rush into your car dealership for a sales event’,” said Ford’s director of US marketing, Matt VanDyke.

A consistent onslaught of shrill, upbeat advertising in this period will be jarring. Though consumers are longing for normalcy, depictions of aspirational and joyous lifestyles will be overshadowed by the anxiety all Aussie consumers are feeling. Now is the time for brands to be proactive in reaching out to consumers, whilst moderating their communications and actions. It’s not so much that brands need to abandon their usual message; it’s simply about putting a new frame around it.

Those new frames could be of empathy through help and support, information and utility, entertainment, banding and rallying together. Brands need to help consumers feel safe at this time of great uncertainty. Take Woolies as an example, in closing their stores for an hour each day to ensure those in need get access to essential supplies.

The help that brands provide during this period could go beyond that of the end consumer, to extend out for the greater good through thinking big, even if this means behaving in unprecedented ways. Miller Lite in the USA tweeted a video of an empty bar as part of a new campaign called “#VirtualTipJar”. Aimed at raising money for bartenders who have lost their jobs due to the nationwide shutdown, the headline reads “Taps are off. But tips are needed” and the ad includes a link to donate to the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program. The brand also chipped in $1 million to the fund.

Guinness reminded consumers that this won't last forever with a St Patrick’s Day ad that tells people “We’ll March Again”. This powerful advertisement was unveiled alongside an announcement confirming a major charitable donation to the ongoing efforts to tackle coronavirus in the United States. And Uber Eats is pledging free food for medical and health workers across the USA and Canada, with daily marketing campaigns to promote delivery from 100,000 independent restaurants that are financially at risk as customers are forced to stay indoors.uber eats

But it doesn’t just have to be about help and support. Brands can also provide consumers with a much-needed distraction, light-hearted relief, helping to take them away from the all-consuming horrors we are facing. The only limitation is imagination, as there’s never been a better time to provide entertainment.

It’s also about bringing people together, albeit digitally, and celebrating true Aussie spirit. Over in America, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s “Chipotle Together” offers virtual hangouts on Zoom. Each day, these scheduled sessions give over 3,000 fans of the brand the opportunity to mingle virtually with celebrities through online chat. And it’s not just brands getting in on the act: celebrities are doing it by themselves too. Using the hashtag #togetherathome, celebrity musicians are nominating each other to perform concerts at home, right across the globe.

The brands that act for good during these uncertain times are the brands that consumers will positively remember. Holding the hands of consumers and coming together with positive, well-framed communication, within brand-safe, trusted environments, will ultimately strengthen the bond consumers hold for brands. It’s not about annihilation but recovery with stories of warmth, help and hope. It’s not about villains but heroes. And it’s definitely not all about being serious and heavy-hearted – rather, at the right time, being optimistic, light-hearted and entertaining. All of this underpinned thinking and behaving differently and a belief in the power of a big idea.

Ultimately, consumers want to see leadership, not just from the government, but also from the brands they engage with in every facet of their lives. Going dark at this time will only depreciate your brand value with these consumers at a time when they need you the most.

Steve Caunce is group strategy manager with Nine’s Client Solutions Division, Powered.

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