Pandemic Advertising: How Brands Have Used COVID as a Marketing Tool



At the start of the pandemic, consumers were bombarded with a hastily constructed new form of advertising. In these “uncertain times,” customers were promised that they could count on their favorite brands for help. Commercials – often featuring dark piano music and / or statements that everyone was “in the same boat” – were omnipresent. Now that the dust has settled on the COVID-centric advertising wave, new search reveals the tactics behind these often large-scale advertising campaigns and why consumers (and therefore brands themselves) should be wary of marketing in a crisis.

When COVID began to plague people around the world and governments were unsure of how to react, corporate advertising sought to define the pandemic in such a way as to make businesses – and their products – a vital part of the fight. solution, whatever it is. In a review of advertising campaigns that ran between mid-March and the end of April 2020, companies used advertisements to tell three main types of stories about COVID. Some, like global shipping giant Maersk, have highlighted the impact of the pandemic on the supply chain and underlined their role in helping get essential equipment to the right places. This type of marketing has defined COVID as a logistics crisis – an issue for which business executives might claim they have the most specialized expertise.

Others, particularly consumer goods brands like Starbucks, have focused on the financial side of the situation and their role in giving food or money to those in sudden need. This type of marketing has defined COVID as a capital crisis. If the problem is not enough money, then rich corporations can become heroes by freeing up money quickly. And then there were those – especially the fashion and luxury brands – who focused on the emotional impact of the pandemic and pointed to their products as a way to make the experience easier and more enjoyable. These ads showed that personal consumption – shopping from your confinement – could be a form of humanitarian heroism, with you as the grateful recipient, or a means of to take care from yourself.

But there were risks associated with these messages, and not all of them landed well. Some advertisements seemed to ignore the broader social issues that made the crisis more difficult for some to endure. Fashion ads targeting women who described the pandemic as some kind of “stay, “for example, sat uncomfortably next to the news on women leaving the workforce under the overwhelming burden of childcare and household chores. Electronic Cigarette Ads Encouraging Consumers to Vap “For Your Health” invited a reaction when hospitals were filled with COVID patients on ventilators.

Some companies even consumers provoked making fun of the severity of the pandemic, including an Italian ski resort that guest travelers to “experience the mountain to the fullest” in a place “where feeling good is contagious”. All the while, social media companies have struggled to eliminate misinformation “influencers” hired by wellness brands to promote products not tested as COVID-19 cures.

Even accompanied behind advertising campaigns that took the pandemic seriously, found themselves on unstable ground. When the UK came out of its first lockdown, cleaning brand Dettol went viral (in a bad way) as it seemed to encourage commuters to return to the office. Some consumers have confused the ads with government public service announcements promoting shopping as a way to stimulate the economy. The misconception contained a grain of truth, for Dettol was the government corporate partner to disinfect public transport. Indeed, several brands in our research mentioned government partnerships as one of the benefits of the crisis.

Meanwhile, the advertisements encourage consumers to shop to “help” rebuild the economy (and the businesses that make it up) have proliferated.

Beyond the pandemic: consume with conscience?

Advertising that addresses social concerns is common, and not just in relation to COVID. In fact, such advertising spans a spectrum of causes where consumers are willing to see business solutions for everything from poverty To climate change. Our research shows that this type of advertising is often designed to influence the way audiences understand social issues and encourage people to view ethical consumption as an issue. way to help.

Like others argued, such good cause marketing “creates the appearance of giving back, masking the fact that it is already based on withdrawal.” For example, consumers may be dissuaded from campaigning for more radical change, believing that they have already played their part through “ethical” purchases. A familiar example is when companies boast that a percentage of the proceeds of certain products goes to a social cause. The the amount given is often small while the revenue that the new product generates for the company is considerable. (Another comes in the form of fashion industry capsule collections that advertise the products as “sustainable” or “recycled”, and thus, may deter consumers from reducing their consumption due to the “green” nature. offers.)

In this context, the risks of attaching a social issue to an advertising campaign are considerable – for the company, the consumer and the cause itself. Our research suggests that it is not every time that the good time for publicity, and you have to be wary of brands that offer freebies.

Lisa Ann Richey is professor of globalization at the Copenhagen Business School. Maha Rafi Atal is Senior Lecturer in Global Economics at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow. (This article was originally published by The Conversation.)


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