News Archive

On the Other Hand, Impacted People Are Helping Impacted People

By Carol P. Osborne

TAMPA (April 3, 2020) -- There is no time like the present for Corporate America to become human.

As COVID-19 coils around the world, resulting in more than a million deaths and smothering the economies on a global scale, most businesses have already changed the way their brand marketing television spots, which typically take months, maybe years, to produce, are addressing the new normal with compassionate messages of hope and encouragement and corporations are stepping up to do more than just sell products and services.

They are displaying a spirit of community by giving back, going an extra mile to help people get through this health crisis. With the cancellation of sporting events in March, including the first rounds of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Amalie Arena, the venue has donated the 18 pallets of food to area food banks. With their gates closed, major theme parks, such as Walt Disney World and Busch Gardens, also have donated food

Good marketing means creating, delivering and communicating value. It’s critical to stay on-brand right now but to stay off the hard-sell messaging. At this point, marketing communications objectives and strategies should have already been revised. Creative concepts, the “Big Idea,” and executions can wait. Messaging needs to be simple, concise and relevant.

During a crisis like this, consumers want brands to do two things. They want brands to keep the products/services they demand in stock and accessible and they want companies to help in any way possible to support those who are sick and those who are working to contain/abate/end this menacing situation. All brands and corporate entities have something to contribute. Those creating goodwill are the ones committed to giving back, not sending consuming messages and advertising asking us to buy their products.

Playing the Long Game

Many national and global brands have demonstrated their abilities to give back while keeping their brands humbly in the background with little to no sign of pushing sales. For those brands, this isn’t a random bump in the road. Messaging strategies have to be rethought, revised or thrown out. This extensive crisis has disrupted nearly everyone’s life and altered consumer behavior. Yet some have re-focused resources:

  • LVMH’s Dior committed to producing hand sanitizer from its soap and perfume plant in France.
  • Burberry, which introduced a line of waterproof coats to the British Army troops in World War I trenches before evolving into an exclusive designer brand, fired up the factory to manufacture gowns and masks for patients and health care providers.
  • Anheuser-Busch is redirecting sports and entertainment investments to its non-profit partners and is also making use of its supply and logistics network to begin producing and distributing bottles of hand sanitizer to accommodate the growing needs across the United States.
  • General Motors retooled part of its manufacturing resources and now makes much-needed ventilators to help restock hospitals around the nation.

These are just a few examples of what big corporations are doing to marshal its resources to help the nation get through this crisis. Consider this “meaningful altruism” as not just giving back or donating, but brands using their connections, expertise, resources and assets to address the needs and wants of our communities, our nation, our world. The underlying goodness of these brands, not blaring, hard-selling horn-tooting, will positively impact brand equity and image and stimulate, in the long run, favorable brand perception.

The execution of this messaging, rather than a big-budget advertising campaign, should be directed to the brand’s vibe, from content (how to make a face mask) to audience engagement (a virtual tour of the British Museum online) to activations (recipes from Burger King France to construct a Whopper chez vous.)

This is what phenomenal brands do.

Locally, and in Florida …

Garrett Garcia, vice president-business insight at Tampa agency PPK, spoke to marketing and analytics students in a live USF class online Monday about campaign strategy. “We’ve been working non-stop since the [coronavirus] situation arrived; every client, case by case, every day,” he said, emphasizing that most advertising and marketing professionals are now changing marketing and messaging strategies on a daily basis. This health care crisis, he said, is “forcing both brands and people to be more creative, more innovative than they’ve ever been before; to turn on a dime and make seismic shifts over a weekend.”

At the Tampa-based World of Beer, James Buell, chief brand and innovation officer, is focused on take-out and giving 50 percent off for essential workers (front-line responders at hospitals, fire/EMS and police stations, supermarkets and drugstores). For WoB customers, deals from $5 burgers and fries/tots, salads and Taco Tuesdays deliver value and a satisfying meal plus beer if desired. Customers are staying loyal and ordering to-go with favorable results.

Casey Barile, marketing director for Domino’s eastern region, (and a USF marketing graduate) detailed her brand’s response to the health crisis: “We have been very fortunate to be able to offer jobs for those who have recently lost theirs due to the worldwide pandemic. We are proud to offer contactless delivery and pick up for our customers so they can feel good about the meals they are getting. We’ve also donated pizzas across the country to families no longer getting ‘school meals,’ senior centers and all those working the front line.”

Not Your Mother’s haircare, manufactured in Lutz, is keeping up with demand and staying on-message as their business hasn’t felt any immediate negative impact from the pandemic. Social media marketing director, Mia Cunningham (a USF grad) said, “We aim to offer friendly reassurance [as] a trusted brand for content that’s fresh and informative during this uncertain time. Our audience has responded well … and we’re exploring more ways to develop closeness with our (online) community.”           

Publix, a supermarket powerhouse, has connected with adoring consumer audiences for decades with its thoughtful, strategic marketing communications, notably, its year-end holiday spots from Tampa agency 22squared. The brand has tabled the joyous messaging, instead posting encouraging announcements from CEO Todd Jones, telling customers Publix is keeping all stores stocked, as best as possible, clean and open early for older consumers more vulnerable to infection.

The list of corporations stepping up to the plate and sacrificing potential profits for community camaraderie goes on and on.

In marketing courses, students learn about the societal marketing concept by which a brand satisfies consumers’ needs and company profits while also benefitting society. What these brands are doing isn’t new but it’s the sure-win strategy in the playbook. Certainly, sales and profit goals are compromised now, but these brands assume loyal customers and new customers will come back en masse when this crisis settles.

While marketing strategy is designed to always create, deliver and communicate value to the consumer/end-user/prospective customer, the emphasis, for now, is on meaningful altruism and will sustain the brands that adopt this approach. 

Carol P. Osborne is an instructor in the Marketing Department at the USF Muma College of Business and Director of the Zimmerman Advertising Program.