These are exceedingly frustrating times for marketers. Product launches are getting deferred, movie theatres and malls are closing, restaurants downing shutters, streets look empty and travel is grinding to a halt. Yet, this is also an extraordinary opportunity for marketers to engage with their consumers. As more and more people get cooped up either at home or quarantined zones, brands have captive audiences for their television commercials, digital campaigns and social media messages.
How are brands responding to this unprecedented global crisis? Many are saying the right things, some are doing extraordinary things while a few have put their foot in their mouth.
Even as governments globally are curbing travel and companies issuing advisories to their employees to stay put in place, a host of travel brands, including a few hotels in Goa, as well as tourism boards, were caught off guard as they were busy tweeting chirpy messages about holidaying in scenic locales. They struck quite a discordant note.
To be fair, Tourism Ireland, which was promoting its new video on exploring the islands of Ireland and posting pictures of Spanish visitors in Ireland, recovered ground with some sensitive posts on St Patrick’s Day.
Vienna Tourism, meanwhile, had a smart post on LinkedIn on armchair tourism and how the city’s museums and their splendours could be accessed from the comfort of homes with an access link provided.
The Event Management Association of Kerala put out a beautiful video of a Kathakali artist being greeted with a Namaste and using hand sanitiser with the message “Let’s start welcoming visitors like this.. Take Precaution, Fight Corona Virus”.
However, there was rank opportunism on display by a few brands. Veteran marketer and commentator Lloyd Mathias said he was irked by a half page print ad run by Arihant Mattress which advertised its “Anti corona virus mattress.” That’s a ridiculous claim — unfounded and bizarre,” said Mathias.
He also pointed to another opportunistic ad by Campure which promoted Camphor as helpful in curbing the spread of corona virus.
Mathias expressed his disappointment at both Godrej Protekt and Lifebuoy for slightly opportunistic campaigns that plugged their products, the former by invoking fear of Corona virus, and the latter by tagging it as a public service message. “If it were a public service message then it should have carried the HUL logo and not Lifebuoy.” Ruing the unsubtle messaging, Mathias said the current crisis could actually be a great moment for brands to put out responsible communication that supports people.
Pidlite’s Fevicol managed to do just that with its superb digital creative around social distancing that showed two elephants pulling away from each other with the line Kal ke mazboot jod ke liye, aaj thodi doori maintain karona . (For future bonding, maintain some distance today).
Vivek Sharma, chief marketing officer of Pidlite Industries, says that three years ago Fevicol upped its digital presence by starting a dialogue on unbreakable bonds with its audience using trending themes.
Much like Amul’s topical takes, Fevicol too has been doing digital creatives on current topics. “Our creatives on Mumbai rains, Brexit, Game of Thrones, all were well liked and went viral. This latest social distancing creative is part of this genre,” says Sharma.
However, what’s special about this creative, says Sharma, is that Ogilvy's executive chairman, Piyush Pandey, has himself created it. Normally, the digital mandate of Fevicol is with Schbang while Ogilvy does TV and print. “But the way we work is all our agencies have collective ownership of the brand and if anyone has good ideas they are welcome to collaborate,” says Sharma.
Sharma feels at times like this iconic brands of stature should be genuine and be concerned about the consumer. Marketers have to be conscious that their brands should not be seen as taking advantage of a situation or force fitting something.
Even as many brands were saying the right things, several also are doing the right things. Lifebuoy may not have got its messaging right but it has joined hands with Paytm in a crowdfunding campaign to donate sanitisers and soaps to domestic workers and the disadvantaged.
Travel accessories brand Travel Blue provided 2,000 N90 face masks to its travel retail partner Flemingo, as a preventive measure for airport staff against Covid-19 across India. Amongst those receiving support are Mumbai Duty Free, Go Duty Free as well as the Duty Free Galleria stores in Delhi and Bengaluru.
Online retailers are using the power of algorithms and technological tools. Some e-commerce players have begun limiting orders per person, allowing only a few units per person to curb hoarding.
Zomato, on its app, had a notification that if consumers wanted to maintain social distance, it had a provision for the delivery person to leave the packet at the door via special instructions. It has also added a message on washing hands before eating. “This is a nice positive move by Zomato,” says an appreciative Mathias.
For brands, these are exceedingly testing times when a word or deed out of place can push sentiments against them. But a sensitive line and a great response can win unshakeable loyalty.