Best Brand Moves During The Pandemic

The fallout from COVID-19 has ranged from tragic to merely awful, but the pandemic has also highlighted heroes – mostly first responders and other essential workers. It has also brought out the best in some companies and brands, with accompanying positive PR.

The abrupt shutdown of normal work and social life has caused many companies to pull back in their advertising and PR. Others have struggled to strike the right note in such a serious situation. But still others have stepped up. Here are my picks for best brand moves so far during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lowe’s builds its reputation

Last week, Lowe’s launched its #BuildThanks campaign, asking customers to post thank-you signs and other positive messages for COVID-dedicated medical professionals using the hashtag. The campaign doesn’t ask people to come to Lowe’s to buy materials; rather, it suggests using what they already have at home. But it does encourage participants to share their signs on social media, resulting in thousands of views and engaging local communities.

Coors Light lightens the mood 

Social media has been a tad depressing lately, with many expressing anxiety or sharing losses due to the pandemic. We can all use some levity, and this week we got it when 93-year-old Olive Veronesi of Seminole, Pa made a relatable request by holding up a sign reading, “I need more beer” while enjoying a Coors Light. Wouldn’t you know it, Molson Coors was listening.  It delivered 150 cans of Coors Light, and, of course, the social media coverage went viral. Olive’s plea – and the brand’s response – was even picked up by CNN. Talk about raising community spirits! I hope she shared.

P&G busts a move 

How do we persuade Gen Z-ers to follow social distancing guidelines? In March, P&G issued a challenge on TikTok for #DistanceDance to help do that in its home state of Ohio. The challenge generated billions of views and almost 2 million response videos, including from celebrities, college mascots and athletes. For every #PGpartner-tagged video, the company donates essential items to organizations like Feeding America.

Domino’s delivers 

Domino’s has given away 10 million slices of pizza as part of its “Feed the Need” campaign to thank essential workers at hospitals, medical centers, grocery stores, and more. Most of the franchises across the country are involved. They’ve even delivered 100 pies to my local hospital in NJ earlier this month! There’s no topping that move.

Hotels open their doors

My personal favorite move from an organization during this crisis is from the hotel industry. The American Hotel and Lodging Association, which includes hotel franchises Marriott, Hilton and Red Roof Inn, among others, has opened up beds free of charge to house health care workers and other first responders during the pandemic. The effort is called “Hotels for Hope” and is quite a meaningful step in keeping health care workers and their families safe.

Truth Is The New Black: The Case For Authenticity In PR

At a meeting of the Council of PR Firms last week, keynoter Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Chief Marketing Officer and the man responsible for spending more marketing dollars than any human on earth, called public relations “the most authentic form of marketing.”

It’s a crowd-pleasing line, at least in a room full of PR professionals. Now, I’m sure you can argue that all forms of marketing can benefit by driving up the authenticity quotient. In fact, Jonathan Baskin got the truth ball rolling this week by doing just that in an eloquent call-to-action in AdAge)

Admittedly, truth can be a potent differentiator in big-budget advertising. There’s often a gap between controlled marketing messages and the reality of consumer or client experience. That’s precisely why going against the grain can differentiate. After all, who among us expects advertising “truths” to be impartial?

Just look at the Domino’s Pizza campaign to launch a new and improved product earlier this year. Domino’s tossed the dice by baldly admitting that its earlier recipe just didn’t cut it. The campaign has won widespread praise for its “radical transparency.” And truth-starved customer apparently ate it up as well.

But, Pritchard’s comment went to the heart of what a great PR campaign should be, and it had a special resonance for those of us who bridge PR and marketing. With PR and word-of-mouth, the authenticity gap is more unanticipated, and the results can be far more detrimental to brand reputation. Here, we’re dealing with editorial and social media, rather than paid and controlled messages. We’re talking about depth of narrative, and we’re trading control for credibility.

Take Tiger Woods. His fall from grace was a championship season for PR pros offering advice and insights into managing his image crisis. But the most astute insight may have been that his PR worked too well, and without a basis in truth. The image of steely discipline, dedication to work and family, and self-abnegation clashed utterly with the reality that was messily splashed over tabloids and gossip sites.

Another example is BP. If it hadn’t tried so hard to convince us of its commitment to social and environmental issues “beyond petroleum,” would its reputational beating have been any milder? It’s hard to say, but when editorial media feel duped, they tend to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The truth gap is always there. But when it’s too wide, and when it breaches a fundamental level of trust, the damage to credibility and reputation can be incalculable. That, to me, is the best argument for a PR program to be based on a brand essence or a business’s fundamental truth. Only then can we live up to Pritchard’s billing as the most authentic form of marketing.