As the severity of the coronavirus outbreak began dominating the news early last week, brands at first took a cautious approach. PR pitches slowed to a trickle and social media posts tapered off. But this week, brands are not holding back, with seemingly every marketer trying to get in on the conversation, whether that means ramping up philanthropy or putting out ads to show how they are responding.
But as the activity picks up, so does the risk. Consumers are especially sensitive right now to anything that looks like a brand is exploiting the situation. “Brands really do have to be incredibly careful right now because consumers are definitely taking notes,” says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow. “In times of stress and anxiety, consumers are hypervigilant.”
Yarrow, a professor emerita at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, shares her perspective on the latest edition of Ad Age’s “Marketer’s Brief” podcast. Below is a snapshot of her advice to brands on how to communicate during the pandemic.
First of all, do no harm. “There is a good percentage of people [that are] really angry and they are looking for a scapegoat,” Yarrow says. “They are looking for someplace to put blame and so I think companies really have to get it right right now—by not making any mistakes first and foremost. And then, secondly, by approaching their relationship with their consumers in a really, really careful way.”
Don’t make it about yourself
Some brands have put out ads that try to encourage social distancing by re-imaging their logos. McDonald’s Brazil, for instance, on social media shared images of its Golden Arches in pulled-apart form. It drew a strong rebuke from Bernie Sanders on Twitter. (The image no longer appears on McDonald's Brazil-run social media accounts.)