Brands surviving lockdown: Creativity meets adaptability

For those with large budgets, 2020 was set to be a marketing dream, two massive sporting events: the Olympics and Euro 2020, gave enormous opportunities for elaborate and experiential marketing, advertising and sponsorship.

But out of the blue, the coronavirus has derailed all that and so much more. From festivals and exhibitions to country shows and even outdoor advertising opportunities, we all had to down tools, take a breath and reposition. But as anyone who has continued to work in marketing or design throughout the lockdown period will tell you, it’s not been a case of reposition once - but repeatedly, sometimes daily. The need to adapt has been driven by the evolving Government guidance, but perhaps more so, by customer mood shifts and consumer mindsets.

The ‘easy win’ in terms of marketing has, of course, been to enhance an online presence and raise digital profiles as business users and consumers moved inside and increasingly online.

Kantar figures show that since lockdown, 48% of consumers are using social media more; 46% are spending more time on the internet, and 38% have increased their consumption of online videos.

However, that has brought its own challenges as the herd movement created increased online competition, making it even more challenging for brands to stand out in an already crowded online environment.

As always, it has been creativity and authenticity that has allowed small and large brands alike to set themselves apart. Perhaps more interesting to observe has been the accelerated importance of clear social conscience within a brand’s voice and the consequences of getting it wrong.

Sports Direct famously kicked off the lockdown by moving against Government advice and indeed, public opinion by refusing to close stores, a decision they quickly adjusted and apologised for. This has been followed by publicity condemning the business for hiking the online prices of certain products, and for making staff go to work during a public health crisis. The resulting brand damage could prove catastrophic as the business moves out of lockdown.

In contrast, other brands have adapted creatively, Zara released stunning ‘self-shot’ campaigns of models in lockdown. As well as maintaining Zara’s styling standards and staying top of mind, it demonstrated great humanity and made the brand feel relevant and relatable, almost as though we were sharing the same experience - Albeit they looked a lot better!

Similarly Netflix, clearly a winner in lockdown anyway as we all embraced our sofas, struck a perfect tone of humour and relevance. It would have been very easy for them to appear exploitative by running a stay at home message. However, by releasing the ‘spoilers’ messages, they managed to avoid a preaching tone and balanced the brand personality with a wry smile, always a winner.

Perhaps one brand that could do with revisiting its messaging inline with customer mood is ironically JustGiving. It’s role as a platform for charitable donations and its commercial priorities as a fee-paying, for-profit business is affecting consumer perception and needs addressing and managing swiftly. Last month the stories circulated on social media that the brand was profiting off Colonel Tom Moore’s 100th birthday walk, although many were false, have had a dramatic and negative impact on JustGiving’s brand perception.

As an agency, the need to demonstrate agility and flexibility has never been greater. We have aimed to stay nimble and deliver faster turnarounds for all clients wherever possible, in full awareness that we are dealing with business owners and managers facing very real threats of closure and/or redundancies if we get it wrong.

And what have we learned about brand purpose and messaging in lockdown? Stick to the three golden rules:

  1. Know who your audience is
  2. Know who you are as a business
  3. Do the right thing in the tough times, and your audience will be there on the other side.

Written by Cat.

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