Good / Bad 3 minutes, 57 second read Mark Johnson, Editor, Just.Marketing
McDonald’s separated its golden arches, Audi uncoupled its four rings and Volkswagen separated the iconic ‘V’ and ‘W’ in its logo; all in an effort to support calls for social distancing. But which brands are doing something meaningful in the crisis?
This was one of the questions we put to marketers in our first-ever Just.Marketing/VMAGROUP survey.
Interestingly, none of the brands or actions above were mentioned when asked about how specific brands have responded.
One Director of Marketing Operations and Insight at a technology company, who wished to remain anonymous, says, “Generally, I think that many brands have jumped on the bandwagon and taken the opportunity to send marketing comms where there are no clear covid reasons to do so.”
Others, such as Infosys Consulting CMO Chris Fiorillo, applauded the “empathy and concern for staff” shown by many companies.
Roger Evans, an interim CMO who has worked for Aviva, Deloitte, Royal Bank of Scotland and Vodafone, says, “Some organisations have been appalling”.
However, he was clear about the brands performing well, those whose actions would be remembered after the lockdown and why.
He singled out the actions of supermarket Morrisons and clothing brand Barbour for particular praise.
The fashion brand temporarily turned over its production line to manufacturing PPE for local hospitals near its South Shields manufacturing base in the North East in April. Roger believes this was an exemplary decision by the brand.
“Barbour has stuck to its local roots, saying they can’t supply the whole of the UK. Will this be remembered locally? I would argue it will in their Northeast heartland because they’ve been focused and not thrown out platitudes,” says Roger.
Supermarket Morrisons, he says, has been sensitive to small suppliers facing cash-flow issues by offering to pay invoices on receipt.
“B2B examples are hard to find but Morrisons – if they honour their pledge to pay invoices to small suppliers quickly – is a good one,” he says.
Overall, the brands highlighted as ‘out of touch’ have been those putting their own concerns first while those coming out well have taken action to support the NHS and other stakeholders during the hardship.
One of our CMO respondents, who also requested anonymity, issued the following advice to brands at this time: “Be relevant, humble and useful or be quiet.”
The ‘out of touch’ brands
Boss Mike Ashley was forced to issue a public apology after lobbying the government to allow his shops to stay open as an “essential service” during the lockdown. As part of his apology, he offered the NHS use of the firm’s fleet of delivery trucks.
Despite being 51% owned by its billionaire creator Sir Richard Branson, staff at the airline were told to take eight weeks unpaid leave at the start of the lockdown while the tycoon approached the government for a £500m bailout.
When pubs were closed to stop the spread of covid-19, Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin told his 40,000 employees they would not be paid until the government delivered on its promise to pay 80% of salaries and derided the pandemic as just a “health scare” in a video to employees.
The ‘purposeful’ brands
The promise by Yvon Chouinard, billionaire owner of clothing brand Patagonia, to pay all of his staff while its stores and offices were closed has impressed marketers. It can only serve to boost employee morale and loyalty once the business re-opens, they believe.
Despite being accused by unions of failing to support its own workers during the crisis, the move by takeaway firm Deliveroo to offer 500,000 hot dishes to NHS Trusts won praise from marketers. Deliveroo said hospitals could place their orders direct rather than through its app.
Craft ale company BrewDog switched its facilities from producing beer to making hand sanitiser to meet spiralling demand, and announced it would give it away. A big-hearted gesture, the 68% alcohol ‘BrewGel Punk Sanitizer’ played well with marketers. Since the survey, however, a local hospital has turned down the gel as it failed to meet medical standards, despite being well above the 60% minimum recommended by the Health and Safety Executive in the UK. We await the next step from BrewDog.
Luxury goods brand and owner of Louis Vuitton, LVMH, turned its perfume and cosmetic production lines in France over to hand sanitiser production at the start of the crisis. Noting that the gels would be delivered free of charge to French health authorities, marketers in the survey saw such action as exactly the type of humble and relevant response required of brands.