corona covid-19 brandemic pandemic brands

Our Creative Director, Ed Watson, takes a closer look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best and worst in brands.

At this very serious time, it’s impossible to write a blog piece that doesn’t make reference to Covid-19 (you’ll notice that we’re deliberately not calling it Coronavirus). It’s having a devastating impact on a global, national and even a local level and as a business we’re urging everyone to do the right thing, stay indoors and stop the threat.

Being a brand marketing agency, however, we can’t help but notice the stance that individual brands are taking. How some instinctively ‘get it right’ and how others are undoubtedly in danger of creating their very own ‘brandemic’ disaster.

Without playing a political card, it was the Chancellor who said: “When this is over, and it will be over, we want to look back at this moment and remember the many small acts of kindness done by us and to us”. The truth is, this is a line that brands should also adhere to, just as much as the general public because when we come out of this, consumers will remember who the ‘good guys’ really were.

This piece isn’t about naming and shaming because every business is different, run by different people with different circumstances behind them. But lessons can be learned by all of us on the ‘good’ as well as the ‘not so good’ side of life.

Many of the positive moves that brands make, start with public relations and they then expand out to wider marketing initiatives that really bring them to life but in reality, these are more like public ‘reactions’ not ‘relations’.

Take for example Pret-a-Manager who decided to do their bit by being the first to offer hard-working NHS staff a free hot drink and 50% off all food. The move, quickly followed by McDonald’s and Greggs, was instantly seen as generous, caring and compassionate and undoubtedly reaffirmed Pret’s position as the country’s most loved sandwich shop, which of course will see a decent return once their units reopen (whenever that will be).

Then you have the likes of the London based Fullers Brewery who own pubs across London and the South East. The brewery took the decision to close their own managed sites but left the decision on their tenanted sites to each individual landlord. What they also did was cease all commercial rents for those properties and agreed to review that decision throughout the coming weeks and months. This wasn’t about selling more pints to thirsty customers, it wasn’t even meant to be out there in the public domain. It just leaked out as a great example of a business that was doing the right thing.

As much as Pret, Greggs, McDonald’s and Fullers have been positive, there are brands that have been slightly less thoughtful. Recent news that Jeff Bezos had replaced Bill Gates as the world’s richest man was followed just a week later by the news that Amazon were setting up a fund to help their workers through this difficult time which we as customers could contribute to … seriously Jeff? Your company is worth over $1 trillion and as of last week and you’re the world’s richest man. If anything your timing isn’t great.

You then have the British retailer, Mike Ashley, a man that controversy seems to follow. Stories of price hikes on fitness products, decisions to keep shops open as long as possible and even recurring rumours of poor staff treatment. These are the very reasons why the @MoneyMikeAshley parody Twitter account announced this week that the only way to defeat Covid-19 was to purchase a Donnay tennis racket and Sondicco goalkeeping gloves from Sports Direct … it wasn’t true of course, but it was funny and ultimately it all goes to create a brand persona that at some point could bite back on Mr Ashley’s rather large backside.

But where do we stop … Tim Martin, Rick Stein and Gordon Ramsey from the food and drinks sector or Michael O’Leary and Sir Richard Branson with their airlines. The point is, everyone has a reason for doing something with their own business and we can’t second guess what that reason is. What we can do, at least, is suggest the world would be a nicer place if we were all just a little bit kinder to each other and that should go for businesses as well because if we’re not careful we could easily see a very real ‘brandemic’ on our hands where well-established brands struggle once we’re back to normal.

Lastly, you’ll remember that at the beginning of this piece we deliberately referred to the virus as COVID-19 and not ‘Coronavirus’. The reason for that was if you ever wanted to see how damaging some associations can be for brands just take a look at the worldwide sales of Corona beer since the beginning of this year, they’ve been completely destroyed. Just this week we heard a story locally that people carry cases of Corona beer were being given a wide berth in supermarkets … what’s going on people?

So, in an act of togetherness and global brand harmony, we’re now off to have an ice-cold bottle of our favourite Mexican beer and we advise you to do exactly the same (so long as you’re not reading this at 10.00am).

In the meantime our message to every one of you is … stay safe, stay indoors and we’ll see you on the other side.

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