Crisis management marketing: How brands are addressing the coronavirus

Kristen Shipley, Abby Loar / April 2020

Many brands are no strangers to crisis management, but the global scale and continued uncertainty around COVID-19 is a first for us all. Whatever crisis response guidebooks that may have existed weeks ago now seem to be from another era, and even the most nimble advertisers — accustomed to evolving their strategies and adapting ad creatives in real time — are asking, “How do we meet this unprecedented moment?”

While the answer to that question will be different for every brand, many have responded with meaningful approaches to give audiences a reason to believe that we’ll get through this crisis and move forward together. Here are three impactful ways advertisers are planning their crisis communications, and showing up during the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks.

1. Addressing customer concerns around COVID-19

Cottonelle

Given the rate at which stores are selling out, one of the world’s largest toilet paper producers, Cottonelle, delivered a direct message to ease consumers’ concerns and discourage panic buying. Instead, the brand urged people to, “Stock up on generosity,” and simultaneously launched a campaign called #ShareASquare, in partnership with the U.S.-based charity, United Way.

The brand pledged $1 million and one million rolls of toilet paper to United Way Worldwide’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund. And for everyone who uses the hashtag #ShareASquare, the brand will donate an additional $1 up to $100K. “We believe our consumers have no shortage of kindness,” said Arist Mastorides, family care president at Cottonelle’s parent company, Kimberly Clark North America. “So we trust that they will #ShareASquare to help us on this mission.”

McDonald’s

To directly address consumers’ heightened concerns around protecting their health during the coronavirus outbreak, McDonald’s Philippines outlined new precautions they’re taking, like required temperature checks for employees before and after shifts. By video, president and CEO Kenneth Yang assured customers, “We will not hesitate to cancel any customer activity or even temporarily shut down any of our restaurants.”

The company acknowledged that now, more than ever, reaching their audience with timely, relevant messages is imperative. “As a community partner, it’s our responsibility to update consumers on the actions we’re taking to ensure their safety and well-being,” said Margot Torres, managing director of McDonald’s Philippines. “Having Kenneth Yang deliver this message was key to show our continued commitment to food quality, service, and cleanliness — all of which are critically important right now.”

2. Pivoting toward a crisis management and communications solution

Ford

As a brand that has been around for more than a century, Ford has weathered its share of tough times. To acknowledge the gravity of the current moment, the company pivoted their ads to explain how they have met global-scale crises in the past — for example, by building military equipment during World War II — and to convey their commitment to fighting COVID-19 by manufacturing medical equipment in short supply. The new ads, “Built to Lend a Hand” and “Built for Right Now,” lean into the company’s century-long commitment to their consumers and mission.

According to Andrew Georgescu, Ford’s head of content marketing in the U.S., “117 years of resilience has taught us that we will get through this. But it’s a critical time that calls for action and cooperation.” To do their part, the company is supporting consumers facing financial hardships through the Ford Credit payment relief program.

OLX.PL

OLX.PL, the most popular online marketplace in Poland, is known for their unique sense of humour. The brand recently introduced a new family of quirky heroes, each assigned a different task that matches their character and reflects new responsibilities due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the video, the characters sing and encourage people to stay home, wash their hands, pick up online training sessions, help out elderly neighbours, and support local entrepreneurs by ordering takeaway from a nearby restaurant.

3. Bringing people together as they stay safely apart during the crisis

Ikea

While being homebound causes stress and isolation for so many, Ikea Spain saw an opportunity to shift perspective around shelter-in-place orders by welcoming their Spanish- and English-speaking audiences back into their own homes. By doing so, Ikea sought to remind people of the stable worlds they had already created — playing with kids, dancing, making music, or simply relaxing with loved ones — as the world around them shifts.

As Laura Durán, marketing director at IKEA Spain, explained, “#YoMeQuedoEnCasa (#I’mStayingHome) is a movement that was born in people’s homes, and it is to those homes that we wanted to pay this small tribute. We invite everyone to view their home from a different perspective and make it a place where, during this time, we can all live new experiences together.”

Guinness

While St. Patrick’s Day is normally a tentpole moment for Guinness, the brand recognised the day would need to be different this year in support of the bar closures and restrictions on social gatherings in Ireland and worldwide. Still, Guinness knew adults around the world needed a lift, so they responded with a message of resilience and assurance. By piecing together existing footage in a matter of days, Guinness shared that their own brand had endured the test of time by “sticking together.”

With that in mind, they encouraged people to celebrate the spirit of the holiday by lifting one another just as they would a glass. “As a 260 year-old brand that has survived two World Wars, the Great Famine, and so much more, we felt compelled to share a message of resilience to reassure consumers that we will all march again if we stand together,” explained Joey Converse, a senior brand manager at Guinness. To show their solidarity, the company committed $1 million to the Guinness Gives Back Fund, supporting their extended community and hospitality workers.

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