3 Approaches Marketers are Using to Adapt Their Brand’s Messaging During COVID-19

By : Ethan Meyer


In one of our last posts, we posed 3 questions, which marketers should ask before adjusting their campaigns for the COVID-19 crisis:

How does the crisis change the consumer journey for our audience?

Is there a competitive risk to going dark?

With the assets that you have on hand can you adjust your message for the moment?

Hopefully, answering these questions provided clarity and emphasized the importance of remaining top of mind with your audience and adapting messaging to the times. If you’ve concluded that your brand’s messaging/advertising must continue, then the following question begs to be answered:

How can a brand’s messaging be adapted for a time like this?

Try going through the following exercise:

Consider your options

Can you create something net new? Do you have a product or service that could help people weather the crisis? Do you need to make do with what you have by repurposing existing creative?

Understand the [existential] need your messaging can meet at this moment

Consider the fact that there is no one on this planet who will remain untouched by the widespread effects of this crisis. You and your audience alike are going through this. While, sadly, some of us will be hit much harder than others, we are all experiencing uncertainty and, likely, some degree of fear. Short of having a solution to the crisis, some things that comfort or help us in times like these are: messages of hope, help, empathy, familiarity, consistency and levity.

Think about which of these comforts your brand is best positioned to offer, based on the options you thought through in the last step.

Make sure the message is aligned with the brand

This is the most important step in the exercise. If your message is not aligned with your brand values and brand personality, it won’t matter how much planning and good intentions went into it. This type of misalignment puts your brand at risk of appearing inauthentic, disingenuous or worse, out to profit off the misery of others.

Here are some strong examples of messaging that has been adapted for the COVID-19 crisis:

Creating something new: Large, legacy brands like Coca-Cola have tapped into their iconic brand identities, altering their logos to convey messages about the importance of unity through social distancing. This message of unity is particularly on brand for Coca-Cola, whose famous ‘Hilltop’ ad was a call to unity, a message they’ve revisited over the years.

Offering help through product/service solutions: Zoom and Peloton saw an opportunity for their products to help people through this difficult time, so they have made them free (for some) and extended free trial access periods. This approach has worked for them, because neither brand has tried to paint their offerings as something loftier than what they are: a useful offering for the time. Neither brand comes off as trying to profit off of a bad situation.

Altering existing assets to convey an appropriate message: In a simple, but clever, Instagram post, Brazilian brewery Cervejaria Colorado altered their bear logo and tagline to responsibly encourage their audience to remain home and limit person-to-person contact to help flatten the curve.

The normally lively bear who encourages the audience to ‘De-hibernate’ and wake up to all that a beer can be, is seen hibernating. This is followed in the carousel by a card that reads:

“It’s our responsibility to take care of each other, for this reason, hibernate. Stay at home, reduce contact with other people and in the case that you want a Colorado, just order it from the beverage store. DE-hibernate after all of this is over.”

This thoughtful, very on-brand messaging, comes off as authentic and empathetic (but not overdoing it.) The message is socially responsible and subtly firm that life will continue afterwards and so will the brand’s place in their consumers’ life.

This is a challenging time for everyone. As marketers, adjusting our brand’s messaging to match the tone of the moment, we should start from a place of empathy. From there, we can consider our options: create something new, offer help or alter existing messaging. Then we should work to understand which existential needs can be met by our brand and lastly, we must make sure that the message and approach aligns with our brand and is believable and authentic. After all, it’s hard to trust a message that’s not authentic.