Empathy as a brand driver during crisis
Our lives are being fundamentally turned upside down right now. We no longer go to the office to work, we don’t meet our friends in bars or cafés, we don’t go to museums, the gym or the cinema. Each of us is facing the consequences of the current situation in our personal everyday lives – that much is certain. The term “social distancing” summarises the measures we are currently undergoing to contain the Corona pandemic. But is that really what we are doing? Yes and no. Physically, we are pretty much isolated. We work in home office and usually only go outside when really necessary. That’s right and it’s a good thing for now. But socially? Contact with friends, family, colleagues or customers does not cease, but takes place increasingly via WhatsApp, on the phone, via video call, e-mail, slack etc. And if you think about it, the conversations often become more personal than usual. In WhatsApp groups, we increasingly receive messages like “Folks, how are you? Hope you’re all healthy and your families are fine!” In conversations with colleagues and customers, not only is the agenda quickly worked through, but people talk, ask how the family is doing and how they are coping with the situation. Kind of social, isn’t it? So, physical distancing? Yes. Social distancing? Not really. But the fact is, things are changing very quickly right now. We change our behavior, we stay at home, we have more time.
Don’t freeze up in shock, rethink.
But we are not only changing our social behavior, but also our consumption. As a result of our extensive isolation, we have an increasing need for communication and entertainment. What does this mean for brands? They too must change their behavior. Our work and private lives are currently shifting even further into the digital world. Smartphones, laptops, smart TVs and game consoles help us to prevent cabin fever. For brands, this means that they must respond to our growing demand for digital offerings and experiences – and do so as quickly and effectively as possible. Especially brands that operate mostly offline must not fall into a state of shock and try to limit damage, but must radically rethink.
Now more than ever, it is a matter of understanding the changed user needs, using technologies and digital channels correctly, designing user centered brand experiences, showing empathy, being creative, communicating properly, entertaining, informing and also taking fears away. Those who manage to do this stand out, are noticed and can even emerge from the crisis stronger.
Meanwhile, numerous examples can be found that show us how it works. For example, after the announcement of the far-reaching curfews in Italy, the platform Pornhub quickly announced on Twitter that it would make its premium service available to all Italians free of charge and also provide financial support.
Pornography aside, the platform has already set a good example on several occasions when it comes to reacting quickly in crisis situations, showing empathy and not losing one’ s sense of humor. During the devastating snowstorm on the American East Coast in 2017, Pornhub drew attention to itself with branded snowplows that cleared the snow-covered streets in New York and Boston. With the hashtag #pornhubplows, the initiative was spread on the Internet.
Another good example of fast response and effective use of digital channels is Telekom, which did not cancel a planned James Blunt concert, but made it available as a live stream, reaching 1.7 million viewers. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra handled the situation in a similar way by making their concerts available as a livestream free of charge.
Many museums are reacting to the current curfews by offering virtual tours of their exhibitions and premises. Thanks to possibilities such as Google Arts & Culture, everyone can bring culture into their homes. Almost 2000 galleries and museums worldwide are already participating. While some only allow you to click through the exhibited works, others allow you to navigate through the different areas and others offer a comprehensive experience with an audio guide.
Creativity and empathy are also demonstrated by the Guiness beer brand, which has suffered severe losses in sales due to the cancellation of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. With an emotional spot and the powerful message “Don’t worry, we’ll march again” Guiness refers to the current situation and pleads for community and humanity in times of crisis – without even using the word corona once.
Ford is focusing on helping customers affected by the crisis to overcome financial fears. All model spots have been dropped and replaced by the spots “Built to Lend a Hand” and “Built for Right Now” (derived from the Ford slogan “Built For Proud”). The campaign is intended to draw the attention of existing customers to a payment facilitation program developed at short notice. In addition to the campaign, Ford provides financial support for emergency relief and food programs.
Mercedes is also withdrawing all planned commercials and is instead filling the scheduled placements with an appeal to stay at home, while at the same time thanking all those who cannot do so because they have to take responsibility in times of crisis.
Other major brands are recognising their responsibility and using their reach to creatively advertise for staying at home. Adidas shares private insights from their brand ambassadors on Instagram using the hashtag #hometeam. Nike is pursuing a similar concept with the campaign “Play inside. Play for the world.”
Jan Böhmermann and Olli Schulz react to the increasing demand for information and entertainment and broadcast their podcast “Fest & Flauschig” five times a week from now on. In response to cinema closures, Universal is releasing planned and recently released movies as on-demand streams. Pokémon Go is increasingly bringing its little virtual monsters to users homes. But it doesn’t always have to be the digital way, as an Edeka branch in Hamburg Altona proves, which now opens its doors on Sundays exclusively for senior citizens, thus making it easier for the at-risk group to obtain food and supplies.
All these examples show that if brands understand the current situation of their target groups, show empathy and use digital possibilities in a well thought-out way, brand communication can work in times of crisis.