Pandemic Marketing – Some Winners and Losers

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BCE has been monitoring evolving consumer attitudes towards purchasing through its own proprietary survey since the emergence of COVID-19. One survey question asks respondents to identity brands they feel are doing a “great” job marketing in light of the pandemic and brands that are doing a “poor” job. This is an unaided, open-end prompt where respondents write in brands that are top of mind in either category. Two interesting observations emerged from analyzing consumer responses to this question over the last two months:

Amazon and Walmart are simultaneously the best and worst marketers in the eyes of consumer right now…

The prominence of these brands in the open-end responses reflects their dominance in the consumer world generally, as well as the role they have played in helping Americans adjust to post-pandemic consumption more specifically.  Sales have surged at both of these brands since the emergence of COVID-19 given:

    • Amazon’s ability to accommodate for Americans increasing reliance on e-commerce to deliver more and more of the products they need (not simply what they have purchased in the past)
    • Walmart’s ability to remain open to customers and leverage their omnichannel capabilities to fulfill products where, when, and how customers need them

But what about the current marketing/advertising approach is causing one group of consumers to come away from advertising encounters feeling strong positive sentiment towards the brand while another group feels a strong negative sentiment?  Start by understanding two common threads of their recent advertising:

    • Describe the steps they’re taking to protect their employees and their customers from COVID-19
    • Demonstrate thanks and appreciation to their employees for putting themselves in harm’s way

This polarity is likely driven by consumer perceptions around the authenticity of each brand’s message given COVID-19.  While one group of consumers appreciates Amazon and Walmart for being transparent about their operations and humanizing the efforts of their broad workforce, another group sees this message as a disingenuous tactic to distract from an imperfect safety and fulfillment record under COVID-19.  One key question going forward will be monitoring how many customers might defect from these brands (post-pandemic) when more options and choices emerge?

Below Amazon and Walmart, “great” advertising is associated with brands that are contextualizing the relevance of their products and services in light of COVID-19

Several brands only appeared on either the “great advertising” list or the “poor advertising” list. BCE evaluated recent advertising from each of the below brands to help explain their performance within this context:

It’s notable that Ford, Dominos, and The Home Depot have all been communicating about the relevance of their products given COVID-19, and/or the ways they are making it easier to purchase their products under societal restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Domino’s, for example, has been communicating the relative ease and convenience of ordering contactless takeout now that so many Americans are home preparing meals. The Home Depot, meanwhile, is emphasizing the ways in which they are helping customer improve their home spaces now that we’re spending so much more time at home. 

Tyson, Wendy’s, and Kroger, on the other hand, have taken different approaches to their marketing messages over the same period, obliquely referencing COVID-19 without communicating the value of its products, services, or customer experience proposition. Tyson Foods has released one ad that speaks to the company’s history of “feeding families since 1935,” while Kroger continues to emphasize its broad supply chain. Wendy’s has continued with business as usual, offering no specific messaging that references COVID-19.

So key takeaways for marketers today in light of these results; authenticity and contextual relevance of your message matter…especially in the middle of a pandemic.


Walter Shepard

Walter Shepard

Principal, Yarmouth

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