Crisis Marketing: which way should Brands go during Crises

04 May,2021


By Bhuvi Gupta


Bhuvi GuptaIt seems unreal that less than a month ago, Indian brands were working on marketing calendars that resembled 2019 more than 2020 – movies were set to release, brand communication had gradually started focusing on reasons beyond health and hygiene. And, then, much like 13 months ago, the second wave hit. And in its wake brands scrambled to revise their marketing calendars.


It was much simpler this time around. With Covid-19 having lasted so long, brand custodians have evolved and adapted their style of functioning to what can no longer be termed the ‘new’ normal. Most brands now have clearly enumerated SOPs for crisis communication and despite having been caught unaware by the second wave, haven’t been shocked by it.  However, Crisis Marketing is a slippery slope. And getting it right always gets the brand laurels but getting it wrong in times of crises creates a stronger than usual reaction.


With the advent of social media, brands are always communicating and hence strong brand personas have become key to a successful marketing strategy in the last decade. As it is with people, it is in the tough times one really gets to know someone and brands are no different.


Brand management during crises is complicated – go dark and brands may lose all the goodwill cultivated over years of engagement (especially true of FMCG, Telecom and consumer goods industries where the product is easily replaceable) or continue with your pre-planned content calendar and you come across as tone-deaf.


There are justifications for batting on either side, which is why brands need to veer on the side of caution. Some best practices which brands’ should follow –


Public Service Advertising Disseminators


Brands have invested heavily using both organic and inorganic means in creating large followings n social media. They also have high investments per campaign with high ad frequency earmarked for traditional media throughout the year as a means to ensure brand salience and awareness. During a pandemic, many go silent or reduce the frequency of communication.   Pivoting the communication to Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) would help create a positive reference in the minds of consumers’ that will help increase loyalty. I recommend this approach whole-heartedly especially for legacy brands with multi-crore budgets who use high-frequency campaigns to drive awareness.


Borosil won over many customers with a humane message from their CEO 


Adding Topicality


A more complicated route is to add topicality to communication. This is possible but it must be done with great care so as to ensure that the brand does not look insensitive, entitled or opportunistic, as this will reverse the intentions of the brand communication and antagonize rather than reassure the target audience.



Kent RO had to withdraw this ad in March 2020 after it received flak as the ad perpetuated prejudices towards working classes


Business as Usual


It is all right to also showcase content or ads, which are unrelated to the virus, because while all of us remain indoors we need distractions, and experience which normalise our lives as much as they can. However, care must be taken to ensure that the narrative doesn’t encourage any behaviour deemed inappropriate due to the new normal. If possible, elements to encourage appropriate behaviour should be integrated into the ad even if they are not the focus of the ad.


Jeep India using their Instagram page to share a simple PSA


Influencers have veered across this spectrum of PSAs and Business As Usual (BAUs) with many using their platforms as SOS helplines while the other remaining half continuing with producing (often sponsored) content with caveats that this may help their audience cope with the stress of living in lockdown.


Lastly, for the sake of the greater good and so that we all get back to our BAU lives, brands should do all that they can to help. This means allocation of CSR funds this year should be made on an immediate war-footing to hospitals, donations and vaccination efforts (to employees and marginalised sections), and using their platform, reach and budget to encouraging good behaviors through advertisements that are either PSAs or integrated into the narrative.


Last year, in the initial days of Covid-19, Google allocated US$340m in ad credits to SMEs, alongside give USD 250m to the World Health Organisaton (WHO) in ad grants. All FAANG companies among other major MNCs have already announced aid to India, but there is merit in them using their humungous ad networks to disseminate PSAs. While some companies especially Indian startup unicorns are already doing this, there is so much more work to be done and if companies such as Facebook (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), Google (Gmail, YouTube, search engine), Times Group  (Mirchi, Gaana, MXTakaTak, TV, Print etc.) actually use their reach to disseminate PSAs the impact on India can be insurmountable.


Bhuvi Gupta is a marketer who tracks marketing and media trends extensively. She has worked with an assortment of companies – from the news media to entertainment. She writes on marketing every other Tuesday. Her views here are personal.


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