Let’s talk corona: how brands are staying on message

It’s hard to articulate what’s going on right now, both in the world and in our heads, and that’s OK – we can always send each other memes or photos of our baking achievements if we don’t feel like talking about it.

When you’re communicating on behalf of a brand, however, you don’t have that luxury. There’s never been more pressure to say the right thing, in a way that’s relatable, on-brand, honest, diplomatic, reassuring and entertaining all at the same time.

Brands – particularly retailers – have had to adapt their marketing strategies with speed and empathy, and for the most part, they’ve got it spot on. We wanted to share some examples of brands that have taken an interesting approach to messaging during corona.

Quick-witted OOH

Emily Snacks, a UK-based vegan snacks brand, had to adapt its first ever ad campaign just before it went live during the corona crisis. The tongue-in-cheek ads reference the situation with typically British self-deprecating humour, acknowledging the bad timing of launching an OOH campaign when the streets are near empty.


Why it works:

If Emily Snacks had chosen to ignore the situation, the ads would have felt eerily discordant. As a result of acknowledging corona, the ads are more memorable and engaging, and they’re being talked about online.

Cheeky chicken social

Nando’s took a cheeky swipe at KFC, after the latter was forced to pull its ad campaign in the US and the UK following a backlash. The ad showed people enthusiastically licking their fingers, which isn’t really in line with the global health advice to stop touching your mouth…

While it’s unfortunate for KFC, as ‘finger lickin’ good’ is an integral part of its brand, it’s a win for Nando’s:


Why it works:

While corona is no joke, we’re all using humour to cope and there is scope for brands to do the same – depending on the brand. Corona-related humour feels right for food brands with a playful brand personality; less so for supermarkets who are expected to help feed the nation.

Earnest TV ads

While some brands can get away with being a bit light-hearted on social media, for most brands it’s more appropriate to play it safe – but there is a risk of seeming formulaic and bland, as demonstrated by this clever montage:

In the UK, there’s been a slew of ‘video call’ ads featuring real employees or customers, for example Co-op and Tesco. It makes sense when self-record is the safest way to produce an ad, but they are starting to blend into one another.

EE have taken a surprisingly different approach, with their low-key ad featuring Kevin Bacon:

“Hello UK, hope you’re staying safe. Normally I would be making a joke but not today, I have something way more important to say…”

It’s super earnest and sombre in tone, but still manages to be heart-warming because it talks about the NHS – and we’re all feeling a bit emotional about the NHS right now.

Why it works:

EE released the ad to announce six months of free data for all NHS workers, so Kevin Bacon has good reason to sound so intense; just intensely saying ‘hello and stay safe, love EE’ might have seemed a bit pompous. Plus, getting Kevin Bacon to (we assume) record himself at home creates an authentic sense of urgency and spontaneity.

Don’t stop talking

Most brands have taken the EE route – sensitive and serious, but ultimately reassuring and positive. Even though we all joke about receiving heartfelt emails from every brand we’ve ever interacted with, not receiving any communications at all from a brand would be strange.

While there are always going to be accusations of ‘purpose washing’, coronavirus is the one thing that truly unites us all. Behind every big brand there are thousands of employees, all being affected by corona.

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