An intriguing by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic is the spotlight shone on brand owners’ response to the crisis courtesy of what, in effect, is a new arbiter of corporate behaviour: the public court of effectiveness.
Consider didtheyhelp.com, a website that invites visitors to award points to businesses and individuals supporting people during the pandemic, and points to those acting badly, with all points weighted according to impact or severity.
Leon, for example, achieved a high positive rating for launching its FeedNHS non-profit campaign (pictured, above) to provide food directly to front-line NHS workers, serving 13,800 meals to workers at half price, staying open to serve key workers despite losing money, committing any profit it makes to feeding hospital teams, and supporting staff choosing to stay at home.
Facebook, too, has been working to combat fake Covid-19-related content, including stepping up efforts to stop the promotion of baseless conspiracy theories linking the disease to 5G.
Vodafone UK, in contrast, scored a minus rating for introducing a £6 charge per day for customers in Turkey, many of whom have been left stranded by the cancellation of flights home until at least June.
Consider, too, the variance in brand owners’ "help" on offer.
On one hand, there is Mercedes Formula One working with University College London to build a new device to deliver oxygen to lungs without a ventilator, McLaren joining a consortium to produce ventilators and Dyson developing its own. Or LVMH, which switched three of its perfume and cosmetics factories to producing hand sanitiser for French hospitals (a move closely followed by Anheuser-Busch InBev and BrewDog).
On the other hand are the many brands simply retrofitting a passing pandemic mention – typically, a reference to "this difficult time" – in their marketing communications. Or those randomly bolting on a "Stay inside" message.
Then there are those that think tweaking their logo to show component socially distanced is enough. Such tactics have been criticised for being at best too late, at worst opportunistic.
The moral is that in a time of crisis – even more so than at any time before – positive, tangible and meaningful actions trump words. And there are a number of reasons why.
First, the Covid-19 pandemic is unlike any crisis before. In times of recession, brands that held their nerve and kept on going with their marketing were those most likely not just to survive but also come out the other end strong. But this crisis is different. It isn’t a company crisis, such as Volkswagen's Dieselgate. Nor is it a sector crisis, such as ecommerce hammering the high street. Or an economic crash.
This is because, for businesses and individuals alike, it is a fight for survival. So when it comes to people’s attitudes and behaviours, it will have a far-reaching, long-lasting and profound impact. Which is why, rather than biggest reach or deepest pockets, tomorrow’s strong brands will distinguish themselves from the weak with meaningful actions.
Second, meaningful action was already an increasingly important aspect of brand effectiveness – even before Covid-19. For proof, look no further than recent effectiveness awards winners. Work for Campaign Against Living Miserably, NHS England and HSBC, to name just three, all came about through purpose-driven partnerships with tangible and value-added practical outcomes.
Third, it is becoming increasingly clear that trust – which, as it was already in short supply, was at a premium – will be business-critical for brands as the world eventually moves out of crisis towards a new normal. And trust is built not by empty claims but meaningful things done in direct response to people’s shifting wants, needs and priorities.
In 2021, will the most successful effectiveness case studies be from brands that reflected the times in their marketing activities or from those that directly engaged with people through positive actions beneficial to their communities and wider society?
Although much about how the world will further change in the coming months is still hard to call, I believe the answer to this question, at least, is already clear.
Simon Law is chief strategy officer at Mirum and UK council member of Effie, the awards championing marketing effectiveness