Brand Communications Can Be Fraught in a Crisis

Thom Weidlich 04.09.20


A major consideration for brands when a crisis hits is whether to alter or yank marketing messages that, with the onslaught of the negative situation, could now be viewed as in bad taste. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents tough challenges with regard to this and, relatedly, to communicating positive actions a company may be taking to address the crisis. We have some examples.

If it must be done, communicating about brands during a crisis requires many of the same sensitivities as general crisis communications. The most important element is empathy, but also the desire to transmit information. Explain what is happening; in this case, it could be about supply-chain issues. Offer to help. Don’t try to take advantage of the crisis for your brand.

Last month, Chevy was lauded for the way it ran one of the first ads to address COVID-19: It didn’t even mention the pandemic. “When we face adversity, we find a way through it,” the spot said. “It’s about taking care of each other.”


When we face adversity, we find a way through it. It’s about taking care of each other.

— Chevy

Chiquita got good press when it removed Miss Chiquita from its logo. “She’s social distancing at home, and we hope you are too,” its Instagram account says.

Other brands were able to tastefully (or, at least, not offensively) tout their positive actions. JSX, a Dallas-based regional short-haul airline, announced it had helped repatriate 106 U.S. citizens to 22 cities once they arrived from overseas to DFW International Airport. On March 25, Hertz announced free car rentals for health-care workers in New York City.

Most Engaged

Consumers are paying attention. In a recent report (“The Cultural Response to COVID-19”), social-media tracking firm NewsWhip Analytics found the most-engaged (Facebook shares, Pinterest pins, etc.) articles about COVID-19 and brands addressed how the companies were responding to the pandemic.

For example, the No. 1 engaged article — a negative one at that — was about Hobby Lobby keeping its stores open. The other top ones were good-news stories: Dyson designing a new ventilator, two CEOs (from Texas Roadhouse and Columbia Sportswear) slashing their salaries, and Crocs donating shoes to health-care workers.

The worst example of brand communications we’ve seen so far came from food-ordering app Ritual. The company got into trouble when it put out a tone-deaf email for its service on March 11 that sought to take advantage of the pandemic. “Not into lunching in a crowded food court these days?” it asked.

The company followed up hours later with a mea culpa: “It was not our intent to make light of a serious situation.”


Image Credit: Chiquita Brands

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