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A real-live father and daughter make rice in an Uncle Ben's ad.

Purpose Brand Business Tracker: Marketing Campaigns Recast for COVID-19

Published on April 27, 2020

Brands have a lot to gain from an authentic response to the coronavirus.  They quickly pivoted to address the clear anxieties and fears gripping consumers.

Defending against COVID-19 is a top-of-mind cause that everyone understands and considers important. Many companies worked quickly to craft marketing messaging around the crisis despite social distancing and production challenges. Companies that link their brands to the COVID-19 response will create durable associations with consumers as a true purpose brand.

The extensive survey at the heart of The Purpose Report 2020 shows that consumers not only expect corporate social responsibility but also identify with environmental, social and governance initiatives. They widely agree (82%) that a brand or corporation is responsible for doing more good in the world than just making a profit. The report guides marketers in positioning their purpose, using a framework similar to crafting brand positioning initiatives.

A convincing COVID-19 message should address the clear anxieties and fears gripping the consumer while making a credible connection to the brand. The following list features the innovative marketing initiatives that companies have undertaken in response to the coronavirus lockdown. We will update it regularly as new campaigns emerge and develop.

Procter & Gamble

Procter & Gamble brand Old Spice repurposed old footage April 17 on social media, recutting ads featuring Terry Crews to promote handwashing, social distancing and staying indoors. The original footage was filmed in 2012 and 2015 to support a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative. Redubbed to address the coronavirus  (“Wash your hands, don’t go out with friends”), the repurposed material was itself on message, as it allowed the producers to keep social distance. The actor-athlete’s comic intensity resonated with COVID-19 anxieties.

On March 21, P&G enlisted TikTok content creator Charli D’Amelio to launch the #DistanceDance fundraiser, which claimed 9 billion total views and P&G pledges to Feeding America and the global relief agency Matthew 25 Ministries. “Our intent is to be useful by encouraging people to keep their distance and stay home,” said P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard.

Mars Inc.

Mars’ food division has built a brand identity for Uncle Ben’s rice around the family. With social distancing making family gatherings impossible, Uncle Ben’s released an ad on April 16 prior to a two-week run on Hulu, featuring a “family dinner with grandma” facilitated by video conference. Mindful of social distancing concerns, the ad was shot in a vacant apartment above the director’s home, and the real-life father and daughter are his neighbors. Even the food used in the ad was obtained via grocery delivery service.

National Basketball Association

On April 17, the NBA, the National Women’s Basketball Association and their merchandise vendor Fanatics announced that it would sell team-branded face masks on its website, with all proceeds going to Feeding America and Second Harvest. The manufacturer will also donate face masks to the food-distribution charities. In a statement, Kathy Behrens, NBA president for social responsibility and player programs, noted in a statement the need to increase food-bank funding while keeping volunteers safe.

McDonald’s

On April 17, McDonald’s released a TV spot that features photographs of consumers engaging in everyday activities, such as texting and eating McDonald’s meals while maintaining social distance. The ad ends with a message illustrative of McDonald’s brand purpose of providing a familiar, consistent and convenient product: “It’s good to know that, even though a lot has changed, a lot hasn’t changed at all.”

Post Holdings

On April 15, the Post cereal brand Pebbles began a 30-day social media campaign in which it will post daily videos with activities for children. The videos feature artists and creators whose work has been impacted by epidemic and lockdown. “We felt that at this time, it was important for us to show up to inspire kids and support the creative community,” said Post Brand Manager Amy Brothers in a statement.

AT&T

On April 12, AT&T was featured on John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” online series. The company reached out to Krasinski ahead of the show, as the host explained during the episode. Krasinski suggested that AT&T offer doctors and nurses a month of free cell phone service. AT&T said they would offer three. This led Krasinski to offer a glowing review: “I may not know much, but I do know what good news looks like. And AT&T, through FirstNet, their network dedicated solely to first responders, are offering to take care of our healthcare heroes in an unprecedented way.” It was a powerful piece of native marketing tying AT&T’s brand to positive, purpose-driven thinking.

JPMorgan Chase

On April 9, JPMorgan Chase launched a new TV ad highlighting its adaption to home-based wealth management. According to Kristin Lemkau, CEO of JPMorgan’s wealth management group, said that the ad is intended to reassure its 2 million clients that the company’s 4,200 advisors are still there to help them manage their finances. The speed of the ad was indicative of JPMorgan’s ability to cut through red tape, Lemkau told CNBC: ” We talk about agile product development. There’s got to be a better, more agile way of ad development.”

Ale Asylum

Ale Asylum, a Madison, Wisconsin, brewery, has launched an unambiguous attack on coronavirus. On April 13, the brewery launched its FVCK COVID pilsner. A portion of sales will be donated to organizations fighting the epidemic. Co-founder Otto Dilber’s unambiguous statement captures the independent brewery’s irreverent, purpose-driven message: “The name may not be subtle, but it succinctly captures exactly how we (all of us) feel about this moment.”

Farmers Insurance Group

On April 10, Farmers Insurance released a new ad that tweaked its long-running campaign and tagline, “Seen it, covered it,” in response to COVID-19. The company has built a campaign around the idea that it has paid claims on pretty much every casualty, allowing its customers to feel safe in their hands. But the latest spot acknowledges the unprecedented nature of the current crisis: “In 90 years at Farmers, we thought we’d seen it all. But we haven’t seen this. So, we’re finding new ways to help our customers.” This ties into Farmers’ corporate purpose and brand purpose of providing individuals and families with insurance products designed with care and guided by unmatched experience.

Anheuser-Busch InBev

On April 9, Natural Light, an Anheuser-Busch economy beer brand, launched its Online Commencement. Many college seniors nationwide will not be able to attend their graduations, which could mean missing out on a pivotal life moment. Natural Light is providing an alternative online commencement, featuring a star-studded speaker and performance roster including Amanda Cerny, Mark Cuban, Jane Lynch, Erika Nardini and Stephen A Smith.

The Stella Artois brand partnered with Lauren Speed-Hamilton and Cameron Hamilton, stars of the Netflix reality dating show “Love Is Blind,” in a contest that will pay the wedding expenses of a couple engaged during the COVID-19 lockdown. The contest was announced April 2, but only couples that go engaged between March 13 and 25 are eligible.

The Coca-Cola Co.

On April 7, Coca-Cola announced that it would be posting social media messages from experts and partner organizations to signal-boost COVID-19 information. Its Twitter feed has featured Red Cross and United Way organizations, Human Rights Campaign and Feeding America.

MilkPEP

On April 7, the Milk Processor Education program, a dairy industry marketer, launched a revised version of its ongoing “Milk, Love What’s Real” campaign. The ad is understated, admitting that the milk production industry is not at the center of the response, but that it is committing to do what it can: “We can’t offer much in this crisis, but we can offer what we have.”

Domino’s Pizza

On April 6, Domino’s announced a “Feeding the Need” campaign to provide 10 million free pizza slices to local communities, first responders and hungry children afflicted by the coronavirus crisis. In a statement, COO Russell Weiner tied the campaign to a purpose brand of feeding communities and being a community partner: “We have franchisees and company-owned stores all over the country already doing amazing work in their communities and we know that by amplifying those efforts together we will be able to help even more people who are struggling right now.”

Carter’s

On April 4, Carter’s, a baby apparel company, launched a coronavirus-focused social media campaign, “Stay Home & Make Memories,” featuring employees spending time with their families. The campaign is focused on the opportunity for people to make the most of their time at home and to make new memories reinforcing a brand purpose based around family experience and values.

TripAdvisor

With global lockdowns limiting travel, the TripAdvisor tour booker Viator on April 4 waived commissions on more than 100 virtual experiences, 80% of which are provided by small businesses. “We want this project to support our operator community – and give those of us at home a way to keep learning and exploring,” said Viator President Ben Drew in a statement.

Yum Brands

On April 2, Taco Bell released a commercial focused on its new drive-thru procedures, including the use of sticker-sealed bags. The 15-second spot is short and to the point: “When you need a little light, it helps to open a window. So we’re keeping our drive-thru window open and following strict guidelines to feed you safely. Taco Bell: Let our drive-thru help you get through.”  The ad reinforces Taco Bell’s core values of health and innovation.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile is known for April Fool’s Day promotional pranks. In years past, the company has jokingly offered everything from fitness tracker onesies to unlimited plans for pets. On April 1, T-Mobile announced that it would not be engaging in pranks this year. Instead, it would donate $1 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America for each tweet with the hashtag #GiveThanksNotPranks posted during the day.

Lowe’s

On March 30, the Lowe’s home centers launched a broadcast campaign asking customers to give thanks to healthcare workers in a new campaign: “#BuildThanks: DIY a Thank-You at Home for Front-Line Heroes.” The campaign asks customers to make do-it-yourself signs to show their gratitude and support for frontline workers, and ads feature celebrity supporters including Kristen Bell and Kevin Love.

Little Caesars

On March 26, Little Caesar’s released a TV spot focused on the pizza company’s sanitary cooking and handling procedures. The ad highlights that Little Caesars pizzas are cooked thoroughly in 475-degree ovens and are never touched once baked – ensuring that the food delivered to customers is safe. The pizza chain delivered to TBS talk-show host Conan O’Brien during an episode recorded from the comedian’s home.

Unilever

On March 25, Unilever said it would donate $8 million in food and personal care products to food banks and 200,000 masks to New Jersey hospitals. The global consumer products maker declared May 21 a national Day of Service, during which all products manufactured will be donated to families and communities impacted by COVID-19.

Bacardi

On March 24, Bacardi launched #RaiseYourSpirits, an initiative to support nonprofits aiding hospitality employees debilitated by the COVID-19 shutdown. ”We don’t have all the answers today on how best to help everywhere, but we are committed to do what we can to see our industry through this crisis,” said CEO Mahesh Madhavan in a statement.

Perdue Chicken

On March 20, Perdue Chicken released an ad thanking all the unsung heroes of the vital food supply chain. The 30-second spot titled “We Thank You” was shot on a smartphone and starring company chairman Jim Perdue, features a heartfelt message: “Folks who are rarely seen, even more rarely thanked, yet they’re always there when we need them the most.”

Kraft Heinz

On March 20, Kraft Heinz launched a global campaign, #WeGotYouAmerica, that recognized the efforts of employees working to ramp up food production in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Demand for packaged goods has soared, and that has placed significant pressure on the company’s workers. On April 14, the company released a TV spot in which factory workers express their desire to help fellow citizens in need. The ad,  shot by Kraft Heinz employees, successfully captures the company’s corporate “dedicated to the sustainable health of our people and our planet.” The campaign pledged $1.9 million in cash and $4.7 million in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and other products to food banks.

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