Let’s not kid ourselves. While health workers staff the front lines, fighting to save lives, many of us keep ourselves busy with updating our Twitter.

“But wait, George. Isn’t this what marketers do these days?

Because Bob the Manager wants me to post three times a day to create a “buzz” around our lockdown special.

And Jenny B-School says this COVID-19 business is a “total fluke” and we should advertise as usual.  

COVID-19 feels so surreal to me.

A few months ago, terms like “national lockdown,” “no-touch delivery,” and “virus testing” sounded weird, post-apocalyptic, and overblown.

Three hundred eighty thousand deaths and 6.500.000 infections later, COVID-19 sounds a whole less overblown to me. [I]

Over the past few weeks, I keep asking myself what a marketer’s role is during a crisis of such magnitude.

Can you fight a virus with a slogan? Should we even advertise our goods and services? If so, how?

I chewed and chewed on those thoughts… and I’m inclined to believe that not only should we, but we must.

Society needs us.

Now, look. Let’s make one thing clear. I’m not kidding myself. While health workers staff the front lines, literally fighting to save lives, many of us busy ourselves with updating our Twitter.

But marketers can STILL have a big impact. We can and should be change agents.

You can’t fight a virus with a slogan, but a strong message of hope, service, and (yes!) humor can lift the virus’s shadow of fear.
And we’re the lucky few with the budget and know-how to boost our voice a thousandfold.

How Can We Lift the Shadow of Fear?

Nobody knows this for sure but there’s strong evidence that COVID-19 could follow a seasonal pattern.
A seasonal pattern means that the coronavirus may seemingly recede now but still make a frustrating and dangerous comeback, peaking in the coming winter months.
In my opinion, this means we should immediately – now not later – do the following three things:
  • Park away from any notion of baking “sales sales sales” into COVID-related messaging.
  • Keep our ears to the ground to understand the zeitgeist of the health crisis.
  • Start preparing – now not later – emotionally resonant campaigns for COVID round 2.
The reason to stop aggressive, pushy messaging is both practical and humane. There’s no better way to destroy goodwill (and customer lifetime value) than to be pushy/exploitative in a time of crisis.
Consumers are, for the most part, simply not interested in pushiness at the moment: They want security, hope, and positivity from advertising.
My other two points are interconnected: If we want to create emotionally resonant campaigns – and we should, both because we are change agents and because emotionally resonant campaigns drive business results – we first need to understand what people feel.

So what are people Feeling?

Based on the research I’ve done/read (I will link the best sources at the end), COVID has caused two emotional/behavioral waves.
On the one hand, we have “fear” and “escape” behaviors. Among others, “escape” behaviors include the sudden need to stockpile resources, an urge to buy additional appliances, and furniture in case we need to “shelter.”
The same wave of fear that caused these behaviors has led many urbanites and city-dwellers to move in less densely populated areas (the so-called “Green Acre Syndrome”).
And it’s the same fear and escapism that’s turned browsing the News the new prime time.

On the other hand, we have “longing” and “release” behaviors. A good example is a rising interest in vacations. After being stuck at home for so long, people can’t wait to travel and have fun again.

Another example is the sudden urge to shop for clothes from brick and mortar stores (take that e-commerce). Or the desire to go to a sports event with friends.

To crack jokes at the situation and make fun of ourselves.

Covid twitter

To say that people have become inventive in their pursuit of release would be an understatement.

Funny tweet

Some people make fun of the situation.

While others are finding innovative solutions to maintain normalcy.
Covid Tweet
Funny memes aside, there is a lesson here. There are two emotional levers we can pull to have a big, positive impact.
We can either pull people away from what they fear.
Or we can push them towards that which they’re longing.
We can either make them feel secure and safe.
Or we can provide them the means to release their anxiety.

Let's learn from brands that did this exceptionally.

During my research, I found some remarkable, emotionally resonant COVID ads which illustrate my point clearly.
One of my favorite examples is Cotonelle’s #ShareASquare.
Now, if it were me, I’d go for #SpareASquare, but that aside, this short ad conveys a lot of things and conveys them beautifully.
It’s a message that provides hope and reassurance.
An antidote to COVID’s shadow of fear.
And it’s also an ad that also encourages people to take profitable action.
IKEA’s ad for Spanish speakers is also brilliant. Watch below how it flips the stress and anxiety of being homebound upside down.
And for a third, final example, let’s take a look at what saucy condom-brand Durex put out.
Covid Ad By Durex
What a perfect way to encapsulate the lockdown’s longing for fun and release (no pun intended).

Round 2 is coming. Are you ready?

I confess. 
I usually HATE it when we marketers get seduced by our (part-time) role as pop culture merchants and get sidetracked away from hard business goals.
Well, ladies and gents, if there ever was a time to be seduced, it’s now. Now’s the time to have a cultural impact. Now’s the time to be change agents. Now’s the time to not be a jerk and start being proud of the work you do.
Remember that people crave to escape from fear. And people long to release their anxiety.
So slip on your creative socks. Keep your ears to the ground.
While the doctors and scientists figure out the vaccine, we have work to do.

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