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PepsiCo Is Trying to Push Healthy Products but Customers Don’t Want Them

PepsiCo Is Trying to Push Healthy Products but Customers Don’t Want Them

PepsiCo says customers prefer Doritos and Cheetos over healthier snack options: it’s a tale of two companies

Cheetos over chickpea snacks. Doritos over dark chocolate.

The market may be flooded with “better for you” snacks, but orange dust-covered chips win out every time. PepsiCo revealed in a recent trade show in Atlanta that the company is being pulled in two different directions: the iconic, and usually unhealthy products of its classic lineup like Mountain Dew, Doritos, and Cheetos; and the healthier snacks of the future.

Unfortunately, even though the CDC has warned us of the skyrocketing obesity rate, customers prefer the salty, fatty bag of chips over a “better for you” replacement.

The acquisition of healthier brands like Naked Juice and Sabra hummus has not been as fruitful as originally expected. “PepsiCo Inc. fell behind the goal it made in 2010 to triple revenue from nutritious products to $30 billion this decade,” the Wall Street Journal analyzed.

PepsiCo has in fact seen a sales increase over the past 15 quarters, and its stock price set a record high this past July. But the favorable sales has been largely due to the popularity of fattening brands, which are churning out brand new flavors and products like the loaded jalapeno frozen bites just released by Dorito.


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo


'Brands Are Really Going To Be Judged.' Companies Are Walking a Tightrope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like just about everyone, Hotels.com had to change plans when the pandemic arrived.

This spring, the travel-booking company had planned to run a set of commercials that debuted last year and included a spot called &ldquoMy Dream.&rdquo In it, the company&rsquos mascot, Captain Obvious, is riding in an airplane his arm is pressed up against one fellow passenger and his fingers are dipping, with abandon, into another&rsquos proffered bag of snacks. It was cute enough several months ago, in the old times. But it is out of sync with the new times, when consumers have been advised to cancel vacation plans, avoid flying, and generally stay six feet away from other humans.

So Hotels.com stopped the campaign mid-flight and quickly put together a new spot. In it, Captain Obvious is still snacking, but this time he first uses hand sanitizer before eating popcorn in silence and isolation. &ldquoThis is Captain Obvious,&rdquo reads the text on screen. &ldquoHe&rsquos going to be social distancing for a while. And you should too.&rdquo The ad, which began airing in late March, sported a special tagline. Rather than &ldquoBe there. Do that. Get Rewarded,&rdquo it echoed the public health edict that is so bad for the ailing travel industry&rsquos bottom line: &ldquoJust Stay Home.&rdquo

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,&rdquo a spokesperson for Hotels.com said in a statement to TIME. &ldquoFor the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.&rdquo

Companies of every stripe are suddenly faced with making such judgment calls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an open-ended calamity that has no obvious parallel for the advertising world.

&ldquoFrom an emerging issue, it just quickly moved into an emergency. Now we&rsquore in a full-blown crisis,&rdquo says Patrick Strother, founder of Minneapolis-based communications firm SCG. &ldquoAnd we don&rsquot even know the scope of the problem.&rdquo Yet companies, many dealing with plenty of other issues in the struggling economy, have to be responsive anyway. And overwhelmed, stressed-out consumers may have a long memory for how those companies make them feel in this moment.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was, for example, comparatively early to announce that it would shift to more responsive production, churning out hand sanitizer for Parisian hospitals rather than high-end perfumes and cosmetics for affluent customers. That move emanated solidarity and helped set the stage for the many firms that would make shifts of their own, from Ford (cars to ventilators) to New Balance (shoes to masks).

The deluge of marketing emails that many Americans have been receiving has, meanwhile, become something of a running joke on social media. Less sensitive messages &mdash like clothiers spinning quarantine as &ldquothe perfect opportunity to get dressed up&rdquo &mdash have yielded reactions such as &ldquomade me want to set my laptop on fire.&rdquo

&ldquoBrands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this,&rdquo says Strother, who has been advising his clients, as an exercise in good morals and good PR, to take care of their employees first. If companies react in superficial ways, industry insiders say, they do so at their own peril.

A first step for brands, as the crisis barreled toward official pandemic status on March 11, was to take a look at their existing campaigns through the lens of the new normal. Many made the same call as Hotels.com. Hershey&rsquos rolled back once-heartwarming ads that showed strangers exchanging food and hugs, opting instead for ads with no people at all. KFC pulled a spot that luxuriates in people eating and licking their fingers and started touting &ldquocontactless&rdquo delivery.

According to a survey from Advertiser Perceptions, nearly half of advertisers have either pulled a campaign or delayed the launch of a campaign because of the novel coronavirus. A third say they completely canceled a campaign pre-launch. Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.

If brands &ldquoare acting like business as usual and are still running their same advertising,&rdquo says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, &ldquoyou immediately feel like that&rsquos a brand that&rsquos tone deaf.&rdquo Johnson says the firm has been working on &ldquofast turnaround stuff for all our big clients,&rdquo including Comcast and PepsiCo.

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends, says that companies need to rethink everything, including their websites. As of April 2, for example, the site for Corona beer appeared unchanged, displaying ads that showed sexy people enjoying themselves at the beach in &ldquothat carefree state of mind.&rdquo Brooks Brothers, by contrast, had added a splash page that touted work the men&rsquos clothing company is doing to make protective equipment like masks and gowns &ldquoduring the COVID-19 crisis.&rdquo

&ldquoTo not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It&rsquos a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you&rsquore listening and that you&rsquore human,&rdquo Bhargava says, &ldquowhich is what we&rsquore looking for from companies anyway.&rdquo

Americans, particularly younger ones, have increasingly been looking to companies to be moral leaders that reflect their values. That sentiment appears to be, if anything, amplified during the outbreak. In a new report from communications firm Edelman, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said that if during this time &ldquothey perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever&rdquo and 77% said &ldquothey want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people&rsquos lives.&rdquo

For this year&rsquos parade-less St. Patrick&rsquos Day, Guinness ran an ad that showed people toasting at home. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry, we&rsquoll march again,&rdquo a voiceover says. &ldquoWhat matters is being with people you care about.&rdquo After sports were effectively canceled, Budweiser developed an ad that repurposed the names of sports teams (the Warriors, the Giants, the Magic) as descriptions of societal lynch pins like healthcare workers, first responders and teachers. Jeep started telling potential buyers that &ldquobetter days are ahead&rdquo and offering 0 percent financing for 84 months.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a way that resonates can be as easy as explaining why business is going ahead despite things going sideways. &ldquoIt might seem highly inappropriate to show you clothes for which you currently have no need,&rdquo British retailer Boden wrote in a message to customers. &ldquoBut we&rsquove already made the clothes. We&rsquove already taken the photographs, we&rsquove already printed the catalogues. It was too late to stop. We hope you don&rsquot find it horribly insensitive.&rdquo

But it&rsquos also easy to put people off. &ldquoPart of it is people like to be offended,&rdquo Strother says of today&rsquos hyper-connected consumer culture. &ldquoThey&rsquore kind of looking for it.&rdquo

As the importance of social distancing became apparent, some companies responded by mocking up new versions of their logos. McDonald&rsquos in Brazil split up the golden arches. Volkswagen put space between the V and the W. The efforts were not universally lauded. &ldquoIt&rsquos too gimmicky to be serious,&rdquo Strother says. If such moves actually help people remember that isolating themselves is crucial to stunting the spread of COVID-19, then okay, says Zsolt Katona, associate professor at UC Berkeley&rsquos Haas School of Business. But it also runs the risk of looking like &ldquoa very short PR stunt,” he says.

Making jokes is also a dicey way for companies to meet the moment. Coors Light had planned to run a campaign during now-cancelled March Madness positioning the beverage as &ldquoThe Official Beer of &lsquoWorking&rsquo Remotely.&rdquo Despite the fact that millions more people are working remotely than the brand could have ever anticipated, it chose to press pause on the campaign, for fear of appearing insensitive.

&ldquoHumor is just not something that&rsquos really resonating with people right now,&rdquo says Johnson, noting that it&rsquos unclear how long that might be the case.

Plenty of companies are marketing products to the vast population now working out of their living rooms. When brands like Pottery Barn send emails with ads for &ldquothe perfect WFH desk,&rdquo they are &ldquodancing on a line,&rdquo Katona says. On one side is the impression that brands are making the crisis more bearable with relevant products on the other is the impression that they are using the outbreak as a vehicle for sales. It&rsquos tricky when people&rsquos circumstances vary so widely, from bored-and-alone to overwhelmed-with-toddlers-and-deadlines to abruptly-unemployed. &ldquoWhat might be offending for one consumer might be just the right message for another consumer,&rdquo Katona says.

There are more clear-cut cases amid the great coronavirus email-marketing blitz. It makes sense for Uber Eats to blast out an update about new sanitation protocols for drivers, who are serving as a lifeline for the struggling restaurant industry or for Target to let everyone on the company&rsquos lists know about new shopping hours for vulnerable customers. But the photo-printing service that reminds customers it&rsquos offering the same services as always, along with a reminder to &ldquopractice mindfulness&rdquo and a TOGETHER discount code? Or a company hawking hydrogen-infused water &ldquoin funky flavors like honeydew&rdquo as a way to stay hydrated if you&rsquore diagnosed with COVID-19?

&ldquoYou want to sell me stuff, especially now that I don&rsquot even have the money to pay my rent,&rdquo Katona says of consumers&rsquo mindsets. &ldquoThose brand images and memories can be long term.&rdquo

The safest way for brands to respond to the crisis is to mitigate it, industry experts agree. There is plenty of overlap between doing good and looking good. Bhargava sums up moves like those executed by LVMH and Ford as a &ldquoproduction shift to relevance.&rdquo But such moves don&rsquot require a factory, or even footing the bill.

According to Bloomberg, Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels, is making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers New York City is paying. Embattled cruise companies like the Carnival Corporation have offered up ships as makeshift hospitals, which seems especially sacrificial given that can only help cement the association between their boats and illness, Strother says. A growing list of companies are promising not to lay off employees or to provide paid leave. (TIME is one of these.) Banks are deferring mortgage payments. Even offering a free trial that helps students who are now learning at home or gym-goers who feel stuck inside can be useful enough to pass the smell test.

&ldquoAction is the name of the game,&rdquo says Johnson, whose new messaging for Comcast will likely alert consumers to some of the company&rsquos empathetic new offerings, like making hotspots available for free around the country or waiving late payment fees.

Does it cheapen a company&rsquos good deeds if it runs ads or sends out press releases about them? Maybe. But it can also help put pressure on other companies or individuals to follow their lead. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announces that it&rsquos donating $100 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic, &ldquothat says to other wealthy individuals that there&rsquos something you can do besides join a singalong,&rdquo Strother says.

The Edelman report backs up this advice: respondents roundly supported the idea of companies offering free or low-priced products to healthcare workers or people whose jobs have been affected, as well as doing whatever they can to protect their own employees and suppliers &ldquoeven if it means substantial financial losses until the pandemic ends.&rdquo

Of course, many companies are themselves feeling the squeeze of the economic downturn. Advertising budgets are being slashed. And there&rsquos not an obvious &ldquoshift to relevance&rdquo for every brand. What if a company can&rsquot afford to do anything but send consumers that email that says &ldquowe&rsquore in this together&rdquo? Perhaps, Johnson says, don&rsquot send anything at all.

&ldquoIt may be a time just to hunker down,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand try to weather the storm.&rdquo