People wearing protective masks against the spread of the coronavirus in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Picture: DOUGLAS MAGNO / AFP
People wearing protective masks against the spread of the coronavirus in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Picture: DOUGLAS MAGNO / AFP

Much as President Cyril Ramaphosa did for South Africans at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, brands have the opportunity to inspire their markets during this time by choosing people over profits. It will connect brands and business to the hearts of SA consumers.

Going dark now would put brands in danger of being outmaneuvered by competitors who have figured out how to continue marketing without being opportunistic. What is required here is a relook at channel mix and focus, and activating in a compelling, useful or entertaining way.

In the face of the giant social enemy that is Covid-19, there is an opportunity to think differently and connect with consumer’s hearts in a way they will remember. Brands which do not yet have an extrinsic or emotional connection that guides what they stand for should take the opportunity to create that connection now, while stronger brands should focus on innovation and creativity.

Chief creative officer at VMLY&R South Africa, Ryan McManus, comments that work should not stop. “It needs to be adapted, but people are still consuming a lot of media, and brands play an important role in their lives, whether functionally (food, toilet paper, banking, delivery) or as light entertainment to share.”

Marketing has a role now as brands allow powerful connections, not just to consumers but between consumers, by enabling them to connect with each other. The key is purpose. There are many new occasions for brands to make the first move: the home office, increased family time, cooking, gardening, home gyms and e-learning. Think about how your brands fit into these as part of the new reality. In the current situation, brands have the opportunity to demonstrate their purpose by solving problems.

The big take-out:

 The Covid-19 pandemic provides brands with the ideal opportunity to inspire and help consumers, using their brand purpose to help fulfil their needs.

At present there are two pressing needs facing SA. The first falls around the huge social problems created by Covid-19. Here brands have a role to play on social media by purposefully taking care of society’s most vulnerable and getting their audiences involved too. The list is long and the needs are complex, including issues such as:

  • The homeless – how do they lock down? How do we look after them when they’re ill?
  • Domestic workers, gardeners, car guards – what happens to people who are affected by no work, no pay, no food? How do we ensure public transport is safe for them?
  • The elderly, the frail and those with compromised immune systems – what do they do if they can’t use technology and e-commerce? How do we get medicines and other essentials to them, and how do we help them through the hardship of not being able to see family?
  • Children – how do we ensure they all have access to tech for ongoing education? How do we keep them busy and help parents out?
  • The socially shunned – how do we give them acceptance and family in this time of isolation?
  • The quarantined – how can we play a part in making sure they get better, get food, get treatment and are still treated with humanity?
  • The mentally ill – how do we reach out to them and ensure they get the right assistance?
  • Pregnant women – how can we ensure they get information and assistance specific to them, and that they have access to health-care professionals and to the products they need when their babies arrive?
  • The disabled – is vital information available in braille and sign language? How can retail accommodate them now, and how can they stay safe if they can’t be in close contact with people who help them?

The other need is assisting consumers who are learning to live in a new reality. This may seem superficial in the context of the social problems listed above, but the needs of this group are real. Here is the opportunity to get creative on entertainment-based TV channels by adapting your brand’s purpose to solve consumer problems relating to boredom, access to information, keeping fit, staying entertained, coming to terms with the new world, and so forth?

There is a lot of anxiety out there and it will rise and fall as time passes. Make sure you’re not being tone deaf.

  • Dono White is the senior strategic lead, VMLY&R South Africa.