Why past branding investments have a role to play in ‘COVID-19 advertising’

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Of late, several brands have created campaigns in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of articles and webinars are also focusing on guidelines for marketing & communications during COVID-19.

The salient points seem to be (a) avoid paying mere lip service through empty messaging like ‘we are in this together’, especially if the brand has no link to the pandemic or its fallouts (b) invest in communication if the brand belongs to a category which is directly or indirectly relevant during this crisis – e.g. hand wash, sanitisers, health insurance and so on (c) create public-service communication which urges consumers to practice safety norms such as social distancing and staying at home; such communication is likely to resonate better if the messaging has a link to the brand or category such as an automobile brand saying that the best place for the brand currently is in the garage (d) lastly but most importantly, urging brands to not stop merely at communicating but doing something with the product, pricing or distribution which is relevant, non-gimmicky and solves a problem so that there is a positive impact on sales.

An example of an effective PSA

A company that manufactures frozen food products such as idly & dosa batter would be expected to take a beating during the lockdown period – similar to other FMCG products. But they clocked their best monthly sales figures primarily by tweaking their production strategy (focus only on producing three of their low margin but staple products) and distribution (direct to consumer through housing societies etc).

“We had to take this call to best optimise the limited resources we had during the first few weeks, when we were facing issues with availability of the raw material from farmers as the state borders were closed,” says Musthafa.


In my view, the fundamentals of marketing and communication will not change during such a health crisis or even otherwise. However, an important aspect of marketing & communication investment during this pandemic is related to the quality of investments made on the brand in the past.

Brands which have invested in creating affinity in the past primarily through product or service performance followed by relevant, meaningful or entertaining communication have a better chance of being heard and be credible during such crises. For example, Uber [despite safety issues] is a brand which has made a difference to urban commuters. During the lockdown their business is definitely affected but they keep the affinity going, in my view through such communication.

It is a bit like human relationships. During the start of the lockdown period if you received a message offering assistance from a contact in your address book with whom you’ve never interacted for a long time, there is bound to be a credibility issue. It is also a bit like the annual birthday greetings we send to some of our friends with no investment in the relationship during the rest of the year.

Do share your views & comments.

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