How To Brand In The Face Of Coronavirus (And Other Crises)

How To Brand In The Face Of Coronavirus (And Other Crises)

Today it’s Coronavirus, last month it was the bushfires and tomorrow lays in wait. When ‘Cancel Culture’ is the norm and fortunes can falter in the space of a tweet, how do brands stay ahead of a crisis? untangld Co-Founder + Strategy & Research Director James Needham shares his thoughts…

From Dreamworld to VW to ScoMo and the bushfires — the world is littered with the fallen that failed to harness the mood of the times and respond accordingly.

Too slow. Too Insincere. 

Too quick to deny, distract or grandstand.

All are found in the wreckage of brands that crashed and burned responding to a crisis. 

Despite a well established rule book, brands and those that manage them have been caught out time and time again.

The Ritson Rules:

For those in the firing line, the three golden rules are well established as outlined by Mark Ritson after the VW defeat device scandal:

1) Act fast.

2) Take responsibility (even if it’s later proven you were not to blame).

3) Declare the crisis over and use your successful response to rebuild trust and brand equity as quickly as possible.

Then there are those brands caught in the crossfire, that aren’t to blame but welcome ignominy based on how they react to the crisis.


Let’s take a look at the Coronavirus.

As one of the most lethal pandemics in recent memory, there have been a few howlers from team Australia and our cousins across the ditch.

Google searches for Corona lager increased by 1100 per cent last month with people looking for “beer virus” and “Corona beer virus”. The rise in media mentions also contributed to this as well as #CoronaBeerVirus meme culture which has had over 1.5million impressions since the beginning of the year.

Despite one poorly timed campaign, Corona wisely stayed away from anything deemed to be self-serving and has been quick to respond to reports that sales are tanking.

A relatively muted and measured response which can’t be said for some the establishments that serve the ill-fated beer.

Fitzgerald’s Irish Bar in Bunbury, Australia, wanted to promote a coronavirus themed party by handing out free face masks for a party named “sickest night of the year” touting AU$6 Coronas all night.

Similarly a bar in Hamilton NZ promoted cheap Coronas with the promise “there are worse things you can catch in Hamilton.”

Only their relative obscurity saves them from being more publicised faux pas.

Not so for Harvey Norman after this handwritten sign in their Albury store quickly made its way to Twitter. 

Responding not reacting

So how do smart modern brands map the right course?

The first thing any strategic response needs is a cultural temperature check to quickly assess and understand what type of dynamite it’s playing with.

Then it needs a well thought through strategy that unpacks what (if any) action would be useful to people, to the situation and to the brand.

Australia often wears the moniker of a casually racist culture, but the Coronavirus outbreak has fuelled misinformation and created further divisions in our society.

47 per cent of Australians agree the virus has made Australians more racist, as attacks on Asians in Australia intensify according to a culture_check poll commissioned by untangld.

So a natural angle would be to find ways to foster belonging, mateship and inclusiveness.

Values Aussie love to champion as we’ve seen with the bushfires and the incredible support that tragedy inspired. 

Fast forward to Coronavirus where we’re seeing the exact opposite. An issue that’s tearing at the fabric of humanity as we distance ourselves from each other and look at who’s to blame.

With a spate of recent attacks on Asian Australians, this is a moment for brands to step forward and play an active role in helping bring us together in understanding both the risks and repercussions of panic responses.

The March wave of results for culture_check saw  46% increase in Australians wanting to see brands innovate for their customers, staff and stakeholders, in a month. 

The power of brands to help at this time is undeniable and is seen by trailblazers like Louis Vuitton converting its perfume factories to make hand sanitiser.

There’s power in positive storytelling like celebrating people who recovered from the virus or did not get the infection despite facing similar risks.

Positive stories show leadership and help people make smarter decisions, calm panic responses and nudge things towards returning to normal. 

When donations have become table stakes what’s the meaningful action a brand can take?

FaceID created masks to help people unlock their phones in virus prone areas:

A small but smart response to the issue of safe communication.

So what?

In times of crisis, it’s brands that can move at the speed of culture, respond with contrition when required and contribute through actions not ads that will map the right course.

All survey data collected via culture_check, in partnership with Lightspeed research.




Please login with linkedin to comment

coronavirus untangld

Latest News

Aussie Shoe Brand TWOOBS Embraces Anti-Marketing In Push For More Consumer-conscious Shopping
  • Marketing

Aussie Shoe Brand TWOOBS Embraces Anti-Marketing In Push For More Consumer-conscious Shopping

After relaunching in September last year, TWOOBS has become a ‘kinda’ shoe brand by also focusing on making the world a ‘kinder’ place and creating more consumer-conscious shopping. The vegan shoe brand founded by sisters Jess and Stef Dadon changed its marketing approach last year and stopped using social media to push sales the old-fashioned […]

Visit Sunshine Coast Hires New Head Of Marketing
  • Marketing

Visit Sunshine Coast Hires New Head Of Marketing

Highly experienced tourism marketer Kelly Ryan has been appointed to lead the marketing efforts at Visit Sunshine Coast (VSC). During the past 12 years, Ryan has supported Canberra’s tourism industry in senior marketing roles, including as director of strategy and insights as well as director of marketing at VisitCanberra. Most recently, Ryan has been working […]

GHO Sydney And Family Planning NSW Launch ‘Planet Puberty’ Platform
  • Campaigns

GHO Sydney And Family Planning NSW Launch ‘Planet Puberty’ Platform

GHO Sydney has developed a new educational platform for Family Planning NSW to help parents and carers of children with disabilities navigate the changes to their bodies, emotions and social interactions. The project, ‘Planet Puberty’, was made possible through funding from the federal government’s Department of Social Services, and was co-designed with people with disability […]

JCDecaux Announces New Partnership With Bush Heritage Australia
  • Media

JCDecaux Announces New Partnership With Bush Heritage Australia

JCDecaux today announced conservation organisation, Bush Heritage Australia, as its major charity partner for 2021. The partnership is part of a series of ‘social impact’ initiatives the business is launching this year, under the banner of JCDecauxHEART. JCDecauxHEART focuses on three areas of social impact: health and mental health, environmental sustainability, and enriching urban communities. […]

Shameless Duo Michelle Andrews And Zara McDonald Launch New Podcast Exclusive To LiSTNR
  • Media

Shameless Duo Michelle Andrews And Zara McDonald Launch New Podcast Exclusive To LiSTNR

Shameless Media’s Michelle Andrews and Zara McDonald’s latest podcast, The Books That Changed My Life, will launch exclusively on LiSTNR on Tuesday, 15 June. Throughout the series Michelle and Zara will talk with guests including Kevin Kwan, Laura Henshaw, Jock Zonfrillo, Susan Carland, Hamish Blake and Delta Goodrem about the books that have had a profound impact […]

Business and technology concept.
  • Partner Content

Make Your CX Stand Out From The Competition

It's top tips to ensure your CX stands out from the competition. Then again, you could simply plagiarise their stuff.

Partner Content

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Why The Future of Work Is Hybrid
  • Opinion

Why The Future of Work Is Hybrid

This expert argues the future of work is hybrid. Which is sad news, as B&T'd preferred it was rhumba or the bossa nova.

Champion Launches Pride Campaign And Partnership With Queer Sporting Alliance
  • Advertising
  • Marketing

Champion Launches Pride Campaign And Partnership With Queer Sporting Alliance

In celebration of Pride Month, cult streetwear brand Champion has announced an Australia-and New Zealand-first Pride range, Champions of Pride, and ongoing partnership with the Queer Sporting Alliance. Championing a cause, celebrating community, and aiming to create real change, the capsule collection proudly heroes the Pride colours in a selection of signature Champion tees, iconic […]

UK Based BankiFi Expands To Australia
  • Marketing

UK Based BankiFi Expands To Australia

Following the successful deployment of BankiFi’s technology platform at The Co-operative Bank in the UK, BankiFi has appointed Lloyd Parata to lead their expansion into the Australian Financial Services market. BankiFi’s technology platform ensures banks remain relevant by offering SMEs an innovative solution to operate their business, whilst avoiding common challenges like late payment. Parata, […]

5 Gum Announces New Twitch Partnership
  • Media

5 Gum Announces New Twitch Partnership

Mars Wrigley 5 Gum has partnered with Twitch to launch Team CLUTCH, a team of Twitch streamers who will assemble on for three live squad streams tackling popular games like Fortnite while embodying the brand’s ethos of ‘life happens in 5’. This partnership builds on 5 Gum’s 2020 Twitch activation, and is set to create […]