Making Their Mark: How Brands Are Coping With COVID-19

A turning point for brands and marketing strategies
A turning point for brands and marketing strategies
Clotilde Briard

PARIS — Nothing illustrates the current need for brand dexterity like the "The Quarantine Whopper," a joint campaign led by Burger King, Carrefour and Uber Eats, and with backing from the Buzzman agency.

Amid the lockdown, the fast food giant has kept its doors closed, even for deliveries. But it's still working to stay relevant in the minds of consumers. Thus the unusual campaign, which reminds customers that all the ingredients needed to make the iconic burger at home can be purchased at Carrefour and delivered by Uber Eats. Marketing agility, in other words, is now the name of the game.

At the beginning of confinement, companies shifted their tone to be more factual, and there was an emphasis on dropping campaigns that were no longer relevant. There was no need, for example, for car rental companies to keep offering weekend getaways.

But beyond just cutting campaigns, companies also needed new strategies — and quickly — and so turned to consulting firms, institutes and communication agencies for help. The result has been an uptick in activity on the marketing side, even as other sectors of the economy have slowed.

In times of a crisis, whether it be public health or economic, consumers become particularly attentive to brand discourse, and expect brands to take responsibility. The marketing firm Kantar estimates that nearly 40% of French people want brands to support hospitals, and that 80% want tangible proof that the companies care about the health of their employees.

That's where corporate communication comes in: It's how companies demonstrate their commitment to the cause by spreading the word about different initiatives. A brand will want people to know, for example, if it's making masks and hydroalcoholic gel, or if it supports caregivers and the vulnerable by giving them priority in stores. It can also be a matter or reassuring the public. Monoprix and the DDB agency, for example, decided to provide information about how frequently cash register mats and payment terminals are cleaned.

Companies are jumping through hoops, in other words, to show the French that they are on their side. "Brands had to carry out active content construction work to help better support containment and render services," says Pierre Santamaria, a partner of France's EY Consulting.

The key, again, is the ability to act and react. The hotel company Ibis, which has made music an axis of its identity, has transformed again since the beginning of April, using Instagram to broadcast intimate concerts held in its hotels and featuring emerging talents from around the world.

"At a time when people have their eyes glued to their phones and social media, this helps to put the emphasis on proximity, simplicity," says Marie-Charlotte Belmonte, deputy director of MRM Paris, which is working with the Accor brand.

It's a movement, furthermore, that is still gaining momentum and definition. "A new relationship is emerging, but the plan of attack is to be perceived as interesting, rather than just interested," says Ava Eschwege, founder of AdC Agency. "The important thing for a brand is to demonstrate its usefulness by focusing on its positioning."

A case in point is the brand Atlantic, which provides radiators, water heaters and other heating equipment to both professionals and individuals. The company is facing the current situation head-on by tackling subjects such as how to control energy consumption at the time of confinement and working from home, or indoor air quality.

Beyond just the issues companies try to broach, the choice of words and images matter too. "In the time of confinement and working from home, some companies have appropriate products and services to sell, but they must be very careful about how they address consumers," says Pierre Santamaria. "The danger is to be seen as an opportunist."

It's important to inform, in other words, but also entertain. Either way, this extraordinary period marks a turning point for brands and marketing strategies, Santamaria and other industry insiders argue.

"It remains to be seen which levers of consumption will be affected by the changes and to measure which policies can continue on as they were in the past," he says. "What is certain is that the process of asserting a business' raison d"être will accelerate, just like the digitalization of contact points."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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