How Brands Can Act As Social Distance Advocates

Last updated: 04-08-2020

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How Brands Can Act As Social Distance Advocates

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted and shifted the routines of millions of people’s daily lives. Teachers are delivering content from remote locations to students who receive it at their homes. Restaurants have fundamentally shifted from dine-in to pick-up or delivery with a “no-contact” option. Even the most magical place on earth —Disneyland — has temporarily closed its doors to avoid the gathering of large crowds.

As, the world aims to “flatten the curve” an important message has been one of social distancing. The principle is simple: maintain distance from people to avoid the unintentional transmission of the coronavirus. Although the message is simple in nature, pictures of people casually gathering in parks suggests it was not immediately embraced by all consumers. Indeed, people often require repetition for a message to truly sink in and have an effect; this is a classic advertising challenge. What has been impressive about this message is how many brands have also jumped to support this message.

For example, a number of brands have posted modified their iconic logos to convey a message of social distance. Audi tweeted a video of its iconic logo—the four interlinked rings—splitting apart with the message, “Stay at home, keep your distance, stay healthy, support each other —we are in this together.” Chiquita removed the famous “Miss Chiquita” in a post on Instagram with the phrase, “I’m already home.” In Brazil, McDonalds even posted billboards with the golden arches split apart.

These are but a handful of examples of brands that have actively worked to play a role in flattening the curve. Rolling Stone also launched a series of ads that educated people on both the role of social distancing and how to operate to avoid spreading the virus. Moreover, the creative twist is they illustrated their points with classic album covers. For example, one ad features the cover of Lady Gaga’s “The Fame Monster,” which shows Gaga covering her mouth, and the caption, “Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.”

However, brands response to this pandemic has not stopped purely at education. Brands have also recognized that, for a lot of consumers, social distancing is psychologically draining. While some might welcome the additional time with the family, it comes at a cost of engaging with coworkers over coffee or joining a friend for an afternoon lunch. People miss their opportunities to engage, but brands have stepped in to reinforce the idea that social distancing does not mean no social engagement or connection. Lou Malnati’s—one of Chicago’s deep-dish classic pizzerias— has send out emails encouraging consumers to continue to celebrate important milestones together, such as birthdays—even if virtually. Chipotle has started to host “Zoom parties” to hang out together over lunch that even feature the appearance of celebrities.

In these difficult times, a number of brands have become active agents to play a part in getting the message out and helping consumers through these trying times. It is easy, of course, for a cynic to ask, “Well, what’s in it for them?” Certainly, some of these efforts are likely to keep the brand top-of-mind and to build goodwill among consumers. So, yes, it is possible to see some potential benefits to brands. However, at the end of the day, brands are comprised of people. In fact, I’ve trained and interacted with enough students and executives at the Kellogg School of Management to know brands are full of really good people. I don’t mean just smart people, but people who genuinely want to develop strong brands that can also do good in the world.

Even if there’s nothing in it for them, there are people who want to use their brands to help flatten the curve and help consumers navigate these difficult waters. And, in these challenging and disruptive times, I welcome such efforts.


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