Authentic and Yes, Beautiful Marketing Messaging in the Age of COVID

In March of 2020, as America burned, companies had before them a mission impossible: how to speak to an audience of people affected by COVID in an authentic, compassionate, and poignant way. As people faced the first few months of lockdown, trying to regain a sense of normalcy in newly restricted lives, buyer psychology and buyer behavior changed dramatically.

Careful planning of marketing strategies and tactics fell by the wayside. Meticulously detailed campaigns based on intricate budgets for social, digital, influencer, retail, and other marketing efforts, merited revisiting. As communities, institutions, and entire nations began shutting down and closing their borders to reduce the spread of a virulent enemy, companies had to prove resilient and pivot, or simply put, become irrelevant.

The bottom line was that marketers could no longer speak to a pre-COVID world. When the word epidemic changed to pandemic, organizations – the smart ones – turned to research and listening as a way to stay informed.

Some of their findings were unsurprising. According to a YouTube Brand Summit held in May via YouTube Live (of course!), some of their initial findings centered on the amount of time people spent online. Totally unsurprising! Media consumption had increased. The question became, however, what were we doing online? What kind of content were we consuming? Where were we consuming it from?

The numbers were staggering and the data was revealing: 

COVID YouTube Insights
Source: YouTube Brand Summit, May 2020

Components of marketing communications had to be diligently revisited as companies reevaluated and updated their messaging to target audiences. Audiences were looking for fresh and diverse content to keep us interested and engaged, and companies had to point out the pink elephant in the room: the world as we knew it was over.

What were some of the ways that companies responded that we can look up to?

One company that was able to pivot in an exemplary manner was Guinness. They immediately revisited their St. Patrick’s Day marketing campaigns, re-worked their messaging, and absolutely brilliantly delivered this video on March 13, 2020, less than a handful of days before the holiday:

Guinness used various marketing communication formats to their full potential:

Dynamic Visual Imagery

Illustrating togetherness with this snippet of people working together to win in a game of tug-of-war.

Static Image and Speaking

Snapshot of two men posing for a photograph as the speaker acknowledges that “this year things feel different”

The music was also right on target: quintessentially Irish bagpipe music conveying a sense of camaraderie and even cheerfulness that somehow, somehow, everything would be okay.

My own workplace delivered this message to employees:

“Question everything we are doing and saying, because it will be seen by everyone, and literally everyone on Earth is going through this, together.”

The companies that adjusted their communication modes and responded with empathy across the various platforms they employ, and also took advantage of all the different marketing communications elements at their fingertips, inevitably gained a loyal audience. As one YouTube commentator wrote below the Guiness video:

“Bro, did I just tear up at a beer commercial? Seriously, first thing to make me feel okay in the last couple days.”

Mitch Gibson

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