4 Methods for Maintaining Brand Health in the Age of Coronavirus

Hands up if you’ve recently disabled the social media screen time tracker on your phone out of shame 🙋. Don’t worry, though, you’re not alone in becoming overly reliant on social media. According to a Comscore report, social media usage in Canada is up 70% since January and people in general are consuming 83% more digital content. A global pandemic will do that.

Media consumption habits aren’t the only thing that’s changed as the world has been forced indoors, either. The type of content that we’re consuming is changing too. According to WARC, 56% of consumers want to see content about the ‘new normal’, 52% about supporting the community, and 46% like optimistic content.

While this is important information for our industry, the Interactive Advertising Bureau reported that nearly a quarter of brands have paused all of their paid marketing. Brands are nervous about putting out ads right now, and they’re not wrong to be — when 71% of people said they would lose trust in that brand forever if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, there is reason to be risk-averse right now. More than a few brands are walking the line between ‘appropriate’ and ‘exploitative’. This came into focus when a video about COVID-era ad clichés started circulating:

With the exception of some of these ad flops, research actually shows that consumers think most brands are responding appropriately to the crisis. We are living in a unique time in history, and your brand has a unique (and I don’t love using this word during a global pandemic but) opportunity to connect meaningfully with its audience. It’s just a matter of how.

Ask yourself, “how do I want my brand to be perceived after this is all over?”. Questions like this should guide decisions around brand communications. Now, use that as a lens as we dive into four ways make your brand stand out from the somber piano music.


Coronavirus is now keyword blocked by the most brands, overtaking ‘Trump’, which had held the top spot for some time. Brands are wary of the negative associations that could come with placing an ad next to COVID coverage, and they’re right to feel this way. Increasingly, brands are testing the waters with ‘uplifting’ content as opposed to the more somber tones we saw above. This tactic is not without its risks. The jury is still out as to what is acceptable or appropriate in the current context, but Heinz is an example of how to do ‘fun’ right.

On the tail of the puzzle craze that has taken over our quarantine pods, Heinz UK launched a giveaway for one of 57 570-piece monochrome puzzles. The insight: Heinz is the premiere ketchup brand for its slow-pour consistency, and what better way to demonstrate this than with the slowest puzzle you’ll ever do?

Why it works: Heinz relates to consumers across the globe who are cooped up inside, inevitably doing puzzles. It stays within the realm of acceptability with a light branding approach (as opposed to a heavy handed, sales-y message).


“Many hands make light work” rings truer than ever during a global pandemic, and brands are starting to see that. It doesn’t hurt that the majority of consumers expect brands to work together (and with government) to make a difference. Being in food service, and thus essential, Harvey’s wanted to “find a solution to physical distancing challenges” in order to keep their staff safe at the drive thru. It experimented with a hockey stick (see below), and when it worked, Harvey’s reached out to Bauer to partner with them. The collaboration garnered tons of positive media coverage, not to mention the byline: “the most Canadian of distancing measures” by CTV News.

Why it works: Working together to reach a common goal is the kind of positive story people seek during times of uncertainty. The fact that both companies are Canadian also reinforces a sense of pride in our good-spirited national identity.

Walk the Walk

When 75% of global consumers expect companies to “inform about [their] efforts” to help in the pandemic and the majority of Canadians (82%) believe that brands have an enormous platform to do good, it’s pretty clear that brands need to be doing something. But what should that help look like?

While donations are essential, brands should think about the most strategic ways to direct their goodwill. Maple Leaf was able to focus their efforts on an issue that has been exacerbated by the lockdown: food insecurity. This cause is close to the company — in fact, its goal is to reduce food insecurity in Canada by 50% by 2030. With the coronavirus threatening supply chains and food security, it was the perfect time for a message of support from Maple Leaf, not to mention a sizeable $1M donation to food banks across the country.

Why it works: Since food security is so well-aligned with Maple Leaf, this execution enabled the brand to benefit from the goodwill generated as a result of their charitable donation.

Own Your Space

Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer shows that 77% of consumers want advertising to “talk about how the brand is helpful in the new everyday life”. Nearly a third claimed that they want companies to help them or provide advice, like how to stay fit at home.

Cue Nike.

Nikefound a unique role it could play and recruited ambassadors like Cristiano Rinaldo and Dina Asher-Smith to help. They launched The Living Room Cup as a way to keep people active while physical distancing and encouraged followers on social to #playinside. So far, the #livingroomcup hashtag has been used more than 10K times on Instagram.

Why it works: Nike was able to own the space and make a helpful contribution – one that feels true to its brand.


Even if everything feels different right now, the rules of marketing are still the same: your communications should be an organic extension of your brand. If they’re forced, they’ll seem inauthentic or, worse yet, exploitative.

Decide how you want your brand to be perceived once the world goes back to the new normal. Ask yourself what gap you can fill. Ask how you can contribute in a way that fits into your brand DNA.

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