Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why Brew Dog, M&S and Lush are leading the way for brands in the pandemic

By John Regan, CEO, Mymyne

Just before the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the Western World, adtech and marketing professionals were facing their own existential crisis in the wake of Google’s cookie killing announcement.

A data-fuelled mass marketing culture, enabled by the internet and geared only towards short-term profits, was coming to an end and the entire industry was left asking itself ‘what next?’

Now, despite the pandemic giving us ample opportunity to offer real digital value and engage consumers, many brands have run for the hills. Sadly, it’s not the first time we’ve seen this. When the financial crisis hit, many marketers opted to keep their heads down, daring not to rock the boat or do anything that might attract attention, be it positive or negative.

In times of crisis, the default for many is inertia. We’ve all heard reports of how the brand safety police have been trying to avoid coronavirus related content, but more notably what we are seeing is……nothing. A recent survey showed that, as of 31st March, 86% of UK marketers are delaying or reviewing campaigns.

Understanding the market

Today, as in right now, we’re seeing that bored audiences are looking for things to engage with.  A Global Web Index report released earlier this month showed:

  • 38% of people are spending more time on social media
  • 39% are spending more time on messaging services
  • 31% are watching more online videos

We’re also seeing consumers have an expectation that brands, which have grown wealthy from the money we spent on them in the good times, will support us in our hour of need.

According to Edelman’s Covid-19 Brand Trust Report, consumers want to see brands putting people before profit by taking action to help address the societal challenges posed by the pandemic. For 71%, brands that fail to demonstrate this, will lose their trust forever.

And, with 86% of campaigns delayed, brands which do take the risk of doing something different will be heard and remembered. Brands like Brew Dog, M&S, Lush and Joe Wicks (or his personal brand) have won the attention and affinity of the public by taking positive measures to support their customers and employees.

What should brands be doing?

The one safe bet is that more people are currently transacting digitally than ever before and, with the end of social distancing possibly as long as 18 months away, this will continue for the foreseeable future.   

Aside from Coronavirus, we also know that the way we identify online audiences is also being disrupted by changing sentiment towards data, restrictive privacy measures from the likes of Google and Facebook and tougher privacy legislation in Europe and the US.

These two factors suggest that the priority for brands must be to adapt quickly to the current situation, and redefine the way they communicate with their audiences going forward, because it will be very different to what’s gone before. Right now, the most risky thing a brand can do is to hunker down and hope to return to ‘business as usual’ in the near future.

One thing the brands mentioned above have in common is their ability to capture the zeitgeist of the pandemic and taken action that acknowledges the strange times we’re living in and are adding real value in their own way. People are bored, isolated, stressed.

The healthcare system is stretched to breaking point and parents are reacquainting themselves with Pythagoras theorem and Jane Eyre.

Brands need to explore new ways of identifying their audience. They need to understand what makes them tick and what they have to offer, going beyond profit-driven metrics to deliver on those less tangible but equally important KPIs – engagement, trust and loyalty.

As was the case in 2008, now is not the time to be dovish.

I’ve long held the belief that clichés become clichés because they’re true.

So here’s a true cliché – brands that experiment now and adapt to this new and evolving landscape, will emerge from the crisis with an audience which is more engaged, more loyal and more willing to buy as the global economy resets itself.