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Ideas Strategy2020-05-28

The Global Takeaway: brand responses to COVID-19

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Routine Relevance - North America

Daily routines are important mechanisms in society; they provide structure and a sense of comfort, especially in times of uncertainty. For advertisers and planners, routines help cement the “day in the life” of a consumer, allowing us to build tactics against either relevance or disruption. But with the onset of COVID-19, our daily routines have experienced a seismic shift.  

Our home has become our office (search queries like “how to effectively work from home” have risen 250% in the last month), our gym (online orders for fitness equipment like treadmills and dumbbells saw a 55% boost in the first week of March), and our classroom. These activities can take place morning, noon, or night, making traditional planning signals like daily commutes and lunch breaks unreliable. However, emotion-based signals (as opposed to action-based) could provide a new path forward for building relevance.  


  • In 2018, NYT launched an initiative called Project Feels that sold ad placements based on the emotions evoked by certain articles. The project has since generated 50 campaigns, more than 30 million impressions, and “strong revenue results.”

  • ESPN offers a similar ad service called LiveConnect that serves different ads based on the outcomes of live sports games and the fan’s anticipated emotional state.

Why it matters 

With everyone trying to predict the new “day in the life” that will stick post-COVID, exploring emotion- and mood-based planning could lead us to a smarter place to play. As consumers establish their new normals, we have an opportunity to reexamine traditional approaches and diversify the way we remain relevant.

Death to digital detox - EMEA

Prior to COVID-19, many experts predicted an increased desire for “digital detoxing” to lessen the impact of digital media and devices on daily life. However, the recent uplift in social, digital audio, and video usage suggests that the current pandemic may have put that on hold. For months (if not longer), digital connections were mocked in favor of more tangible ones, mostly due to the idea that digital connections caused an increase in loneliness.  

With digital avenues being the only remaining form of safe interaction with loved ones, we’ve begun to reverse the trend, fundamentally shifting our relationship with technology. Digital channels have become a force for community and connection in a moment of isolation, and brands and entertainers are adapting to fit the times.  


  • BrewDog Bars - 102 virtual bars that bring us together to enjoy a beer. BrewDog co-founder James Watt said, “The role that community and great beer play in our society is now more important than ever.”

  • UK Listening Parties - Artists play a chosen album at 10pm every night and guide fans through it in a Twitter-stream of studio memories, backstage revelations, memorabilia, and more.

  • PE with Joe - The online phenomenon has hundreds of thousands of people getting off the couch and moving their bodies.

Why it matters

This is just a small selection of the uplifting and enriching ways brands are able to remain relevant in this time of need. It’s often said that Millennials and Gen Z’ers value experiences over material goods, and it's clear that extends to digital experiences, as well. ‘The rise of digital’ isn’t to blame for loneliness and a loss of interaction; our priorities are. Connectivity and community can go hand in hand. 

Tackling COVID-19 - APAC

As our response to COVID-19 unfolds, brands have been helping to fight this battle across multiple fronts. Some have sought to close the governmental gap where they can by providing key supplies to communities in need. Others have provided alternatives to support continued education and healthy lifestyles, even while in lockdown. 

It’s commendable that brands are responding to the pandemic, but it’s also necessary, according to consumers. 78% of global consumers believe that brands should help them in their daily lives during this time (Kantar 2020). Here are some ways that brands have responded to this growing expectation across the region. 


  • Pivots: In China, Estee Lauder donated to a charity focused on assisting the frontline in Wuhan, while companies like SGMW Motor, BYD Motor, H&M, and others have pivoted to producing masks and sanitization products.

  • Fitness: In China, Yoga and activewear brand Lululemon and gym brand Supermonkey launched video live streaming yoga and gym classes suitable for at-home audiences.

  • Education: Indian online learning app BYJUS is offering free access to its app as schools remain closed.

  • Investment: In Korea, Samsung & Hyundai have announced 30 billion and 5 billion won donations (respectively) to the Korea Disaster Relief Association.

Why it matters

In times of crisis, consumers will remember who invested in their communities and helped them the most. Brands need to engage in cause marketing and purpose-led efforts in order to build brand love and trust in the long run. Finding the right balance between profit and protection is key, even as we look ahead to defining a future “new normal.”