Opinions and Insights

How Brands Can Not Be the Worst During the COVID-19 Crisis

AKA: How Brands Can Speak to People in the COVID-19 Crisis

Toilet paper. Purell. Facemasks. Oh my.

I know I am not alone in the incessant reading of any and everything pandemic related. I’ve read a dozen articles relating to COVID-19 and the state of marketing alone. Which, if you’re still in a state of divergent digestion, here are a few of my favorites:

But the most profound piece of information I have read since this all started came from an Instagram post by Ingrid Medeiros, a Brazilian model living in New York City:

“We are all in the same boat. We are not all in the same storm. For some people it’s sprinkling. This is a break. It’s a breather. It’s a rest. It’s a pause. A time to reconnect with their families. Honestly, it’s kind of peaceful. For some it is a storm. It is a bit scary. It’s disruptive. It’s enough to make you stay up and watch the news and worry, a bit. For some it’s a hurricane. It’s tearing at the boards. It’s pulling off the roofs. It’s washing them out to sea. It’s dark and unknown. It’s life changing.”

We are all in the same boat. We are not all in the same storm.

The biggest challenge that we as marketers face (with or without a global pandemic) is getting the right message to the right person at the right time. Crafting a unique and relevant message to people who are interested in what we have to say. The goal is the same—the stakes are just higher at the moment, where 27% of US consumers have convinced other people to stop using a brand that they felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic.

As humans, we are responsible for understanding the storm others may be in, and as marketers, we must apply our understanding of the human condition to ultimately speak to people in their storms. Our favorite brands speak to us as people—and the personality and tone of a brand, just like with individuals, varies greatly. What is important is that you stay true to who you (the brand) are. There is never going to be one right message for all people.


Brands need to adapt their messaging to be relevant and sensitive to the times, but that does not mean turning yourself into the COVID-19 response expert when you are, as Jared so eloquently put it, the butt person.

Many brands are doing it right. Here are a few of my favorites:


Anheuser-Busch: #OneTeam

  • What they did: Anheuser-Busch teamed up with the American Red Cross, reallocating their $5 million in sports sponsorships to set up temporary blood drive centers at stadiums and arenas around the country. This ad uses sports team names—from the Angels and Yankees to the Reds and Magic—to thank those on the front lines, from first responders and nurses to grocery store clerks and those doing their part by staying home, because “this season, we’re all #OneTeam.”
  • Why it works: This beer is known for its tear-jerking, Americana ads, so the tone is natural for Anheuser-Busch. And by reallocating sponsorship funds, the brand is showing it’s taking concrete action to support people during the pandemic.

Buffalo Wild Wings: Sports live on

  • What they did: Featuring user-generated content, Buffalo Wing Wings shared a compilation of people “sporting” at home. They stated simply, “Even when sports aren’t on, sports live on.”
  • Why it works: The country (myself included) was shocked when all major sports leagues cancelled or delayed their seasons by mid-March. Buffalo Wing Wings (known for wings, beer and sports) was quick to release the spot across social channels on March 23. They spoke to consumers early, with a core part of their brand: sports. The ad is lighthearted, true to their voice and included an important (though indirect) PSA for individuals to stay at home.

Pepsi: One World: Together at Home concert

  • What they did: The philanthropic organization Global Citizen rallied big-name artists—from John Legend to Camila Cabello—to perform live-streamed mini concerts under the banner Together at Home. The organic success of the concerts has led to the global special “One World: Together at Home,” which aired across several networks on April 18. With a number of major music festivals already cancelled, Pepsi is reallocating some planned advertising to publicize the show and is consulting on everything from marketing to talent procurement.
  • Why it works: While Pepsi did not organize the initiative, they are able to naturally provide support through promotional sponsorship. Music is integral to Pepsi, so much so their Music Director Ellen Healy was quoted in Billboard last year stating, “We have music in our DNA.” It’s an authentic and sincere way for Pepsi to join the conversation and make positive change.

There is no perfect formula for all people or all brands. We as marketers are responsible for removing ourselves from our singular life experiences and actively working to understand those in storms different than our own. Coming out of this, the brands that can help their consumers will win, and those who can’t will face doubt and loss of loyalty.

Looking for more tips on marketing like a human? Check out our article 3 Tips for Marketing to Humans, Not “Consumers.”