Saturday, April 18, 2020

Bias Toward Actions During the Pandemic to Avoid "COVIDwashing" Backlash

Cut and paste ad template: “ has been here for for years, and we’re here for you today during these unprecedented times. Our commitment to our customers and employees has never been greater. At our core, our company has always been about people, and that fuels our belief that together, we can thrive during this difficult and challenging period. We may need to stay apart to ensure the safety of our families, but we’ve never been closer. thanks you for making us part of your life and allowing us to support you–yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

A month ago (or a year in COVID-19 time), I wrote about the dangers of “Virtue signaling.” In March, our inboxes were flooded with nearly identical messages as brands raced to express how they empathized with our concerns and deeply cared for their employees and customers. Too often, those messages said brands cared without demonstrating the necessary actions and decisions to help customers during a period of worry and challenge.

And now, the TV airwaves feel the same. Every ad affirms how intensely each brand cares, the many years it’s been there for us, and its hopeful message that we’ll get through this together. Just as with the wave of emails in March, consumers may have welcomed and appreciated the first brands to offer empathetic 30-second spots. But, the stream of undifferentiated commercials now risks boosting the perception brands are leveraging the pandemic for marketing purposes.

People are beginning to notice. Frito-Lay produced an ad, “It’s About People,” that gently mocks other brands; “The world doesn’t need brands to tell us how to think or feel,” it says. A video called “Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same” is beginning to circulate among marketers on social networks. The video, which has earned 250,000 views in two days, strings together the indistinguishable music, copy, and imagery used in the current deluge of COVID-19 TV ads.

And, while nascent, the term “COVIDwashing” is beginning to appear in articles and on Twitter. The New York Times used the term in an article about Draper James, Reese Witherspoon’s fashion label, which stumbled into a PR crisis by making a well-intentioned but ill-conceived offer. Two weeks ago, the brand took to Instagram to say to teachers, “We see you working harder than ever to educate our children. To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress.” The post generated a lot of publicity and interest, and soon the brand had to backpedal as the application form crashed. The company realized interest was much greater than anticipated, offered a raffle for a limited number of dresses, and many consumers took to social media to accuse the company of reneging on their promise.

To learn more about the term COVIDwashing and learn advice about what your brand can do to protect itself from the accusation of using the pandemic for marketing purposes, please continue reading on my Gartner blog.

1 comment:

ACB said...

I also hate COVID. My blog is also affected by the disease