Five Brands That Hit the Mark in Their COVID Responses

by | May 1, 2020 | Marketing

Staying afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic is the main concern of brands and businesses right now. The economic impact has been huge, after all, and will be felt for months and years to come. That being said, it’s important to be mindful of how you’re managing your brand during this time. 

How individuals and communities are being treated by companies is an issue that’s being widely watched right now. More than 89% of Americans are keeping an eye on employee treatment and brand behavior. Prioritizing safety over profit? Being generous with sick pay? Giving back to communities? 

We’re all doing the best we can right now…but here are some brands that have done some real good. 

Guinness: Getting people to stay home from some really good parties

One of the first moments when the reality of the pandemic really seemed to register with people was just before St. Patrick’s Day, a time of lively (read: boozy) congregation and celebration. The Trump Administration had just put out its social distancing recommendations and festivities were being canceled, both nationally and internationally, out of concern for creating massive transmission events. 

But the draw of a big party is hard to resist. As one of the preeminent brands for St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness was quick with a response. In fact, some would probably say they had a responsibility to respond. And it was a good one – emotional, but not overwrought, sensitive but direct. Their imagery is historically grounded but showcases the evolution of their consumer base. It’s a great brand representation.

But most importantly, it creates an appeal to heed recommendations. It’s reassuring – “Don’t worry, we’ll march again” – but clear in its “safety first” message.

Ad Council: Sharing information with the help of others

The Ad Council isn’t so much a brand, but it’s worth mentioning here for the sheer value of the work that it’s done. You’re probably already familiar with the work of this long-running coalition, which brought us Smokey the Bear and launched the first Earth Day. 

The work put forth by the Ad Council is wide-ranging, from social media content to PSAs and more. While the sum total is too much to dissect in this short space, what is really notable about it anyway is the collaboration that it has generated. 

Companies including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Warner Media, and YouTube; celebrities such as singer Noah Cyrus, rapper Taylor Bennet; and experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deoborah Birx, and Dr. Jerome Adams have all contributed to different aspects of the Ad Council’s work.

Ford: Innovating and collaborating

Ford has tackled the COVID-19 pandemic in an impressively robust manner. They’ve partnered with GE Healthcare and 3M to produce health equipment to offset massive shortages; Ford has also just announced a partnership with Thermo Fisher and other manufacturers to expand their production to include face masks and gowns.

They’ve also handled their advertising well. Ford’s recent “Built to Lend a Hand” and “Built for Right Now” ads​ were the first to directly mention COVID-19. With these ads, they’ve shifted their focus away from acquiring new customers and instead are replacing ads for the Escape and Explorer models with informational pieces about their car payment relief programs. 

Ford, you might be interested to know, has a strong history of thoughtful responses to difficult situations going back to the World Wars when they helped manufacture tanks and planes. Since then, they’ve been a leader in their industry for offering support in natural disasters as well. 

Scholastic: School’s out, but learning is still in

The school year ending months early has disrupted family life in major ways across the country. Daily schedules upended, plans for the future all of a sudden uncertain, and houses full of family members trying to figure it all out together at the same time. Keeping kids on their educational paths seemed like a bridge too far!

Scholastic has done an admirable job trying to ease the stress on families by offering really thoughtful, well-built resources for kids. 

  • Learn at Home: While schools have tried to transition quickly from in-person to virtual learning, there have been struggles. And most parents will admit that while they love their kids, they’re not teachers. Scholastic has stepped in with a robust online learning portal. It’s categorized by age and broken down into week-by-week lessons. It’s really good…and it’s free.
  • #OperationStoryTime: Capturing beloved tradition of storytime…on social media. Scholastic is working with authors and celebrities to share videos of them reading books for kids. Jennifer Garner reading “The Mitten”? Reese Witherspoon reading “Uni the Unicorn”? Dolly Parton reading Bedtimes Stories? Yes, please.

Does the marketing of this match the power of the Ad Council? No. But does it need to in order to demonstrate brand value? Also no. They are meeting a need in a way that’s useful, timely, and aware of their customer base. And that’s just as impressive. 

KFC: (Don’t) Lick Your Fingers Good

Whether you a devotee of their fried chicken or you prefer Popeye’s, you have to admit that KFC has gone to impressive lengths to respond to the pandemic. Like Ford, they have taken a multi-faceted approach to provide support to those affected by the coronavirus. 

  • David Gibbs, CEO, is using his salary for the rest of the year to provide bonuses for employees during this time and create a COVID-19 relief fund
  • KFC has donated $400,00 to Blessings in a Backpack, a non-profit organization helping meet nutritional needs for children while they are out of school
  • KFC corporate has delivered over 1 million pieces of chicken to its franchisees to give away in food drives, especially for first responders. 

KFC was also responsive in adapting their marketing strategy, pulling a campaign in Ireland and the UK that was focused solely around their long-established tagline, “Finger Licking Good.” Brands don’t always read the room, but KFC managed to shift tactics quickly on this.

Everyone is moving quickly to adapt to life and business during a pandemic. What brands have made a big impact in your eyes? We’d love to hear!