Here’s How Not To Market Your Brand During A Pandemic

Staff Writer
Last Updated
December 29, 2023
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In our last Monday Morning Coffee report, we talked about how digital advertising revenues are declining, and the support that the internet companies are providing despite that. While paid advertising might not be the main priority of many companies today, our recommendation was for brands to focus instead on content generation and branding efforts (branding doesn’t need to stop just because your advertising had to). Let’s dive a little deeper into that.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing During a Global Crisis

With the world rapidly changing, consumer behavior and tastes are changing as well. Online engagement is high (according to Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer, web browsing increased by 70%, and social media engagement increased by 61% over normal usage rates) and they are still interested in watching brand activity. In an article published by Forbes, it says that  “millennials believe that marketers can play an important role during the COVID-19 crisis, and want to see communications that address the situation in their tone and/or focus on brand initiatives”. So at this time, it’s best for us to first address how brands shouldn’t be marketing during a global pandemic and what they can do instead.

1. DON’T: Capitalize on fear.
Instead: Acknowledge the situation and be sensitive to your audiences.

Don’t capitalize on fear (or in any case, don’t capitalize on a global crisis). This goes without saying, you just don’t want to be that brand, you know? We’ve talked so much about the impact of this pandemic on companies, but it’s important to remember that it’s affected so many individuals on a personal level too. Your audiences are real people with very real emotions, bottom line: you are not talking to bots. However, you do still need to acknowledge that we are facing a global crisis while keeping your customers in mind.

If you are not careful about the messaging you put out, your ads/content can veer into fear-mongering territory. For example, convincing people to buy your product by insinuating that the virus could be lurking everywhere incites fear, and to a certain extent can be very inaccurate information. If your comms appear to be doing this, it might hurt your brand name more than the crisis will. Remember, selling your product is different from scaring customers into buying your product. Here are a couple of practical tips you can try out:

  1. Ensure that your content/copywriting is relevant. For example, if you’re selling travel products, your previous ads are very likely to be no longer relevant. Make small adjustments, from “take us with you around the world”, to “we’re staying put, but we’re looking forward to traveling the world again once this passes”. We suggest checking all your existing ads to make sure that you stay relevant to the times, otherwise, you may come off as ignorant.‍
  2. Acknowledge the situation, but keep a neutral tone of voice. Again, you don’t want to turn a blind eye to the current situation. But because a global pandemic is a serious situation, your messaging should avoid being casual, witty, funny. On the other end of the spectrum, avoid anger, distress, or panic. Your customers will be more sensitive to the messages you put out there. Instead, try having an inspiring, hopeful, or uplifting tone of voice (but avoid being pushy about it).  

2. DON’T: Go all out on marketing expenditure.
Instead: Lean in to data and adjust your marketing plans

With fewer advertisers running ads online, CPCs are going down across various industries, making this a would-be great time to go all out on ads. This, we don’t recommend immediately, especially if the cheaper costs are the only reason you have to consider pushing forward. Advertising for the sake of advertising could potentially lead to greater losses than gains. We would optimize for a slow burning, steady, and sustainable marketing strategy through this time rather than taking any large bets. We are not in a steady state and you may end up paying the cost when more volatility shakes your campaign assumptions.

For example, run a quick search for “N95 face mask” or “hand sanitizer”, you won’t see any ads appearing. You may have noticed that you haven’t seen these products on social media ads either. That’s because internet platforms have also specifically banned both paid and organic content that may be seeking to take advantage of the situation (which is possibly because of all the cases of price gouging, fake news, and inaccurate information spread). Make yourself aware of the evolving restrictions around advertising as this might affect your brand’s ability to put out content. Adage writes that Internet advertising companies are racing to keep up with the new issues that may surface from this crisis.

Additionally, the use of certain keywords including “coronavirus” (and similar terms) on ads may also lead to disapprovals, or even worse, ad account deactivations. Make sure you stay up to date with what you can/can’t do before you launch back into your digital marketing efforts. Check out these resources below:

  • Facebook news regarding coronavirus‍
  • Google Updates to Inappropriate content Policy

Once you know what you can’t do, dive deep into your audience data to see how you can reach out to them and how you can do so in a relevant way. For example:

  • ‍What are people talking about? Social listening is the way when trying to get the pulse of consumer sentiments. Running a quick keyword search on Twitter is a great way to see how people are talking. Google Trends lets you see topics of interest and search trends within specific geographies.‍
  • How are they consuming media these days? From device, to placement, to channel, dive deep into how your audience is behaving in the online world so you can zero-in on your targeting. For example, in some geographies, mobile traffic may have decreased since people are spending time indoors. Check your analytics dashboards if there have been any significant change in behavior since your local lockdowns or circuit breakers have been implemented‍
  • What type of content are they consuming and what topics are they interested in? Facebook Audience insights lets you see what topics your target audience may be interested in. If there’s anything new there, and if it may be relevant to your brand, try producing more content around that. (Hot tip, you don’t need a large production budget to produce content. Sometimes all you need is your camera phone and a message).Becausundefined

Because media consumption and consumer behaviors changed drastically over the last couple of weeks,the marketing plans that you planned last month might not be relevant today. It’s important to be quick and agile enough to adapt to the changing landscape, so that you can maximize your existing budget and assets. Remember that adapting, adjusting, and trying out new things doesn’t require a hefty marketing spend.

3. DONT: Sell for the sake of selling.
Instead: Consider adding a CSR initiative to your business model

Again, consumer expectations are different now. While there is very little expectation that brands should stop advertising, according to an article published by Campaign Asia, Singaporeans particularly want to know how brands are providing support to their staff and customers (25%), and also expect brands to provide informative messages regarding Coronavirus (23%).

Image from Campaign Asia

With this in mind, adapt your advertising messaging to what your customers want. In this case, consumers may be more willing to support brands that they know support their people and community, so consider adding a CSR initiative to your existing model if you haven’t already. It can be as simple as donating a portion of your sales, or setting up a donation-based webinar. This can also be a chance for you to get creative with how you can engage your community to take part in your initiative, and how you can continue “selling” your brand.

But if you already are doing CSR efforts, share this with your followers. Keep them updated on the status of what you’ve been doing. How many workers and families have been supported? How much have you been able to raise? Where, when, and how many products have been donated? Your customers will be more than happy to see that your contribution (which is also their contribution) is actually making a difference in someone’s life.

Overall, we know that marketing during this time is not going to be easy. Navigating the digital world will require extra caution, creativity, and agility, but once you get through, your business will come out stronger.

“History teaches us that new opportunities are born from the deepest moments of crisis.” - Giorgio Armani

Further Reading:

Google: Navigating your campaigns through COVID-19

Adage “Twitter, Facebook, Google Adjust Covid-19 Ad Policies On The Fly”

Think With Google COVID-19 Media Principles

Campaign Asia: How media consumption is fluctuating in Southeast Asia and Australia

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