It certainly is a grey area that many businesses are confused about
Marketing has always been a profession that focuses on capitalizing on trends. Brands jump at the chance of an opportunity to not only do “social good” (which could be financially profitable) but to leverage off something viral.
But this situation has been different.
The Coronavirus has garnered worldwide attention since the virus was detected in Wuhan at the end of 2019.
For businesses, all this activity and fear generally raises a fundamental question.
How should you be marketing during this coronavirus period?
Let’s firstly take a look at what businesses have involved Coronavirus in their marketing
So far, many of the more prominent brands have decided to stay out of it.
One of the few businesses that have included Lush, which recently invited the UK to wash their hands in stores. They did not explicitly state it was related to the virus but instead promoting it as an initiative around cleanliness.
“Since we’re universally known as ‘that soap shop’, from Friday 28 February we’re using our shop windows to promote the hand-washing guidelines as advised by the NHS in the UK and other public health organisations around the world,” the company said in a statement.
Another example is Dominos Pizza marketing their Contact Free Delivery. This means a no-contact drop off service, which you can request on the application that leaves the food on your doorstep without further interaction. CEO David Wild said this was a measure added to limit physical contact during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Beyond the mainstream consumer products, companies within the B2B networking and cybersecurity spaces (Sophos, F5 Networks, etc.) have also upped their marketing around the Coronavirus, mainly focusing on topics on remote working and cybersecurity of employees working at home.
These examples raises the question if you can do good marketing during the Coronavirus.
The simple answer is to avoid it unless your business can help directly or provide expert advice
Otherwise, any businesses that are unsure what value they can bring should stay clear.
Without providing actual value back to the community, it may look like your trying to profit from the situation even if you’re not.
“Brands are nervous about appearing to profit from this crisis. The conversation is being had in many client and agency organisations, but they have to be absolutely sure they are helping people not just making money from it, or being seen to make money from it.” — Owen Lee, chief creative officer of FCB Inferno
In my opinion, if the business can provide expert advice or legitimate educational content, they would already understand their position in assisting with the current crisis.
For Dominos, it is ensuring customers the safety and delivery of the pizzas, and for cybersecurity companies, it’s to focus on securing employees in a time of vulnerability.
As long as the content is educational and in a domain expert field, I believe it can still be ethical.
So what is a bad example of marketing done poorly during the crisis?
As mentioned above, any business that is engaging in any marketing activity without providing actual value back to the community is doing it wrong.
Here is an example I saw recently on a forum.
When I saw this email, I was so surprised at how someone could have ethically thought this was smart.
The whole email is a sale’s pitch for something that is not related to the Coronavirus.
This, to me, steps over the line.
When people are using the current situation for financial gain is where it becomes unethical.
Amazon, Google, and Apple were ready to crackdown on it
There are many cases where bigger companies are starting to crack down on people leveraging the current situation utilizing their platforms.
Amazon and Apple have started to crack down on any applications that are not from an official source like the WHO (World Health Organization).
Amazon has also further taken down any listings that are related to price gauging. These include people trying to sell hand sanitizers, facemask, and more that were bought at a discount before the virus exploded across the world.
If you think you’re safe from Google, you might be wrong too.
Google is helping point certain keywords towards the WHO’s website instead of those trying to write SEO content for the current situation.
In general traffic, growth has been strong in specific sectors while massive declines in others (obvious winners in finance, food and healthcare, and losses in travel and transportation).
The critical thing to remember is that businesses can still take advantage of the situation without doing anything related to Coronavirus.
As many companies are cracking down on budgets, this is a suitable time to look for discounts around services such as lead, media, and marketing-related activities if you have the money.
It’s essential if you do want to take advantage, you don’t have to exploit the coronavirus name.
We all hope the coronavirus situation passes soon, but it will be a long road ahead even with vaccines.
If your business isn’t related to the coronavirus situation, the best thing we should be doing is supporting each other and keeping social distance with one another.
Remember, don’t exploit the crisis.