During the coronavirus outbreak, brands are showing their true colours

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has revealed a side of brands we don’t like, but also seen others step up during a crisis, as Principals’ Claire Gallagher explains.

My Gran used to say, “under pressure people show their true colours”. I’d suggest the same is true for brands. 

As we face down a global pandemic, this is a time we will judge organisations and brands by how they behave. Are they contributing positively or adding to the unease? Are they actively supporting their customers and employees or preserving self? Are they doing nothing or, worse, capitalising on the situation? 

Supermarkets could have done more to curb the ongoing toilet paper shortage, and that of other necessary items

Faced with the recent ‘Toilet Paper Crisis’, I’m feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the response of the big supermarkets. In this age of customer loyalty, analytics and data, how can supermarkets access my purchasing history, email me the latest personalised promotions, but fail to use this data to distribute toilet roll or hand sanitiser equitably? 

Perhaps the question lies in the nature of loyalty. Is “membership” or “rewards” simply a sales channel? What does it actually mean to the customer in times of need? Surely these large, sophisticated companies can use their information and show us some loyalty – in the form of loo roll.

And then there are those that look to be doing the right thing in the heat of the moment, but struggle to uphold the appearance under increased scrutiny. Case in point is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Last week, the Governor unveiled the state’s own hand sanitiser to combat a surge in prices from manufacturers trying to cope with demand. But he later faced backlash when it was revealed the product was made by prisoners.

Of course, we have seen some admirable examples of brands responding positively in this moment of crisis.

Qantas springs to mind with CEO Alan Joyce forgoing his salary for the next couple of months and members of the Qantas board also taking a pay cut as cancellation policies have been loosened. For a brand that promotes itself as the “spirit of Australia” during times of business-as-usual, it’s encouraging to see the organisation’s leadership respond in a way that truly demonstrates those brand values.

Then there is eBay, a brand that describes its purpose pioneering new communities “built on commerce, sustained by trust, and inspired by opportunity”. eBay is demonstrating this commitment to trust by cracking down on price gouging as people try to on-sell face masks and other such products on the platform. 

Norwegian Cruise Lines, meanwhile – a brand that will be working overtime to bounce back from the crisis – is adjusting its policies to allow passengers to cancel trips up to 48 hours prior, a big shift that is no doubt putting a strain on the administrative functions of the business.

I can’t help but think there an opportunity in all of this madness for brands to stand out from the crowd, show real leadership, and lock in lifelong loyalty by demonstrating they genuinely care.

By the time all of this is over, we’ll have a better idea of what the brands we know are truly made of.

Claire Gallagher is internal brand director at Principals


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