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Getting Branding Right in a World Gone Wrong

“We’re all in this together.” Really? I don’t know about you, but personally I’m incredibly tired of seeing and hearing this message, over and over and over again. As a marketer and brand strategist, it bothers me even more. Our profession seems to be paralyzed by the COVID pandemic and, in our overwhelming need to say something—anything—marketers are relying too heavily on vague platitudes and self-serving gestures.

Well, fortunately not everyone. 

There are some brands that are getting it right. They’re keeping the prevailing “we’re-here-for-you” mindset but transforming it into what consumers and businesses want (and need) from the brands right now: action, information and support.

We’re doing something (really, we are)

During this crisis, we’re all craving action from our leaders and our brands. Increasingly, companies are stepping up, donating to relief efforts, providing healthcare services, tools, and equipment, and helping individuals and businesses deal with the financial fallout. Many are incorporating their actions into their communications, connecting with their communities in compelling campaigns that come across as anything but chest-pounding.

Among the first was Hanes, who simply took to social media to announce they were retrofitting some factories to make masks for frontline workers. Budweiser went bigger (of course) with their “one team” spot, bringing their familiar American pride message—and eliciting tears (come on, I can’t be the only one)—the way only Budweiser can. But it’s not just the spot, it’s the actual financial support that goes along with it that makes this a great example of a COVID-era campaign done right.

We thought you should know

In the information category, many brands are explaining to consumers how they can, or can’t, access their products right now. One of the most effective may be Little Caesars’ “serving peace of mind, always,” which crams satisfy-your-craving-for-pizza-safely-in-a-crisis, a heritage/quality message and their own brand of whacky humor all in one 15-second spot.

Now, while knowing the germ-killing baking temperature of your favorite pizza may be important to some, it pales in comparison to knowing what’s going on with your healthcare, or your college education, or your money.

We’ve seen solid information-focused brand messaging in these categories as well, albeit on a much smaller scale. AW client Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Group is one example. While other orthopedic practices closed, they chose to keep their network open during the crisis but changed their practice model to an on-call one for those experiencing orthopedic pain. Within 48 hours, we helped Orlin & Cohen communicate the change to patients and the broader community. 

We’re (still) here for you

And we’ve certainly seen more than our fair share of morale-boosting and PSA-style messaging. Jack Daniels was quick out of the gate with their With Love, Jack campaign, a heartwarming (and again, tear-producing) spot on the realities of social distancing with a user-generated version of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” as its backdrop.

But while very effective a few weeks ago, this type of spot is by far the most dangerous for a brand to hide behind as this crisis continues on. Now is the time for all brands to add some real-life action, if they haven’t already.

It’s time to adapt, pivot and shift once again. 

As marketers, we must always listen to the conversation. But in a crisis like this, how well you respond—authentically, empathetically and quickly—is far more important. 

Because that’s what your brand will be remembered for long after this crisis is over.




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