Making Their Mark: How Brands Are Coping With COVID-19
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."
For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.