Brands Struggle to Stand Out with Appropriate COVID-19 Messaging
Kimberly Surico |
 04/29/20 |


During these times of uncertainty amid COVID-19, companies are tackling how to advertise without seeming desperate, uncaring, or superficial.  Social media is flush with examples of poor marketing, as brands struggle to stand out with appropriate COVID-19 messaging. So, what is appropriate? It depends. And social listening reveals answers to boxes that brands must check when sorting this out.

Brand/Consumer Disconnect

A few brands, catering to home-bound and stress-buying consumers, are offering sales and promotions to drum up business and customer loyalty.


While this is certainly a great way to get more sales, it’s not necessarily received as intended. And some ads have been blatantly tone deaf:


Although this came fairly early in the crisis, Sandals’ promo is not exactly an appropriate sales pitch during a global pandemic where “staying at home” is the overarching guidance.

According to Marketing Land, “It’s important for marketers to recognize that all advertising and marketing (and PR) right now is happening against the backdrop of the outbreak. And that must be carefully considered in thinking about promotions and messaging.”

But are these misfires really surprising? Many brands do not know consumers all that well, after all.

Brands Misfiring on All Cylinders

A 2019 report by Forrester Consulting revealed that “rather than taking the time to understand how customers prefer the engagement to play out, brands have simply decided that all methods which reinforce customer engagement are important.” In fact, when asked a series of questions regarding brand confidence and communication, companies scored themselves much higher than their customers did.

Forrester Report 1

While 85% of companies thought they were offering relevant discounts or promotions, only 12% of customers said they felt the same. Another startling statistic showed that most brands surveyed believed that only 17% of their customers received “generic, non-personalized marketing messages from a brand I already know,”  but 38% of consumers say otherwise.


Brands are obviously missing something here – and that something is accurate consumer sentiment. And there’s never been a better time for them to find ways to connect meaningfully with their customers.

Connecting Meaningfully During COVID-19 & Beyond

One of the most important things brands can do during COVID-19 is evaluate if their marketing is appropriate and relevant to our new “normal.”  Joshua Spanier, Google’s global marketing VP of media shares, “As market dynamics change rapidly, we’re constantly reassessing campaigns, creative, and even our guidelines. What we decided two weeks ago isn’t necessarily appropriate today. The one constant assumption we have in this situation is that things will change.”

As people around the world continue to struggle with lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, companies need to make sure that their marketing reflects where their customers are in real-time, both economically and emotionally.


Thoughtful Messaging for Trying Times

People who have been laid-off or furloughed from their jobs are not looking for great deals on major purchases. Smart brands have recognized the need to offer empathy instead of deals to their customers, and have either put planned ads on the backburner or tailored existing ads to reflect the mood of the economy. You can see common themes running throughout those ads that are paying attention.


According to AdAge, “Ford is pulling all national ads promoting its vehicles and will replace them with a new campaign describing how it is responding to the coronavirus, including giving Ford Credit customers some payment relief.”

Companies also need to be aware of the messages that their ads are conveying, especially as government and medical officials encourage people to practice social distancing and other safety guidelines. A recent article on WordStream stated, “While it’s normally common and effective for brands to keep a conversational tone, it’s best to steer clear of using humor or wit to accomplish that right now. Even being overly casual can be off-putting.” Denny’s is a great example of pivoting from something that worked before, to what works now:


Being aware of real-time shifts in consumer sentiment is key for businesses that want to stand out and give back during the COVID-19 pandemic. But how are they doing it?

Sentiment Analysis Starter Pack

Using NetBase, brands are able to capture and analyze consumer sentiment from specific segments and locations, as well as view live data and trending themes. And importantly, they can see where they fit in the larger competitive conversation, from a consumer standpoint.

They can learn from crosstab analyses, for example. The ability to understand how customers view your company, as well as your competitor(s), is paramount. Using a side-by-side comparison of attributes, themes, tags, or even geographical locations, brands are able to view net sentiment and evaluate what areas they excel in as well as those areas that need to be addressed.

Quick Crosstab Comparisons

Capturing a quick comparison of Pepsi and Coke, and applying three themes – Creativity, Influence, and Quality, over a three-month time reveals a lot. It shows that while net consumer sentiment is high for Pepsi’s creativity, it scores low in quality. And at the end of the day, quality is what will bring repeat sales.


And keep in mind, this is a very small slice of the metrics that brands can measure and track over time using this powerful capability.

Brand Passion Index

Brands can also reassess this intel in real-time. With the ability to view real-time data, such as mentions and brand passion index, companies are able to spot increasing/decreasing trends. How does almond butter do when compared to peanut butter? It may have much smaller conversation share, but its audience is very passionate about it – and they love it. Why? Wouldn’t peanut butter makers love to know? NetBase allows them to dig in to the conversation and sort it out!


And listening isn’t just great for understanding what consumers are saying and why – but also for sorting out which channels a target audience is primarily on and who they’re listening to, from an influencer standpoint:


And, in the case of marketing during COVID-19, NetBase allows companies to analyze the effectiveness of an ad or promotion quickly and change tactics if needed.


Analyzing Appropriateness

As the world continues to grapple with the effects and potential after-effects of COVID-19, brands are discovering that not much is certain.  What is an appropriate ad or marketing strategy one week may just as easily be considered off-color or insensitive the next. One thing is clear – brands must be on top of their consumer understanding game, be willing to analyze and adapt. And we’re helping industries leaders do just that. Reach out and we’ll help you join their ranks!


Premier social media analytics platform

Expand your social platform with LexisNexis news media

Power of social analytics for your entire team

Media analytics and market intelligence platform

Enrich your media analytics with social data

Media coverage for historical & real-time monitoring

Data streams & custom KPIs for advanced data science

AI, Image Analytics, Reporting Tools & more

Out-of-the-box integration with other data sources