Shameless ways companies used COVID-19 as a marketing tool

Firstly of the pandemic, customers have been bombarded with a new and swiftly constructed type of promoting. In these “unsure instances,” clients have been promised, they may depend on their favourite manufacturers for assist.

The advertisements, often featuring somber piano music and declarations that everybody was “on this collectively,” have been ubiquitous. Now our research reveals the techniques behind them, and why customers ought to be cautious of the advertising and marketing they encounter in a disaster.

When COVID-19 was nonetheless new and complicated, when governments have been not sure about reply, company promoting sought to outline the pandemic in ways that made companies—and their merchandise—an important a part of regardless of the resolution may change into. We discovered that from mid-March to the tip of April 2020, companies used promoting to inform three most important sorts of tales about COVID-19.


Some, like the worldwide transport big Maersk, emphasised the provision chain influence of the pandemic and pointed to their function in serving to to get important tools to the suitable locations. This type of advertising and marketing outlined COVID-19 as a disaster of logistics—a drawback for which company managers may argue they’ve probably the most specialised experience.

Others, particularly shopper items manufacturers like Starbucks, focused on the monetary aspect of the scenario, and their function in donating meals or cash to these in sudden want. This type of advertising and marketing outlined COVID-19 as a disaster of capital. If the issue isn’t sufficient money, then rich firms can swoop in as heroes by liberating some up rapidly.

Then there have been these, particularly style and luxurious manufacturers, that targeted on the emotional influence of the pandemic, and pointed to their merchandise as ways to make the expertise simpler and even enjoyable. These advertisements made the case that private consumption—purchasing out of your lockdown—may very well be a type of humanitarian heroism, with you as the grateful recipient, or a manner of taking care of your self.

However there have been dangers connected to those messages, and never all of them landed effectively. Some advertisements appeared oblivious to the broader social issues that have been making the disaster tougher for some to bear.

Trend ads focused at ladies that described the pandemic as a form of “staycation,” for instance, sat uncomfortably subsequent to news reports about ladies who have been leaving the workforce beneath the crushing burden of childcare and house responsibilities.

E-cigarette ads encouraging customers to take up vaping “on your well being” invited a backlash when hospitals have been stuffed with COVID-19 sufferers on ventilators.

Some companies even provoked consumers by mocking the severity of the pandemic, together with an Italian ski resort that invited vacationers to “expertise the mountain with full lungs” in a place “the place feeling nice is contagious.” Elsewhere, social media companies struggled to stamp out misinformation from “influencers” employed by wellness manufacturers to advertise untested merchandise as COVID-19 cures.


Even ads that took the pandemic critically discovered themselves on shaky floor. When the U.Ok. was popping out of its first lockdown, the cleansing model Dettol went viral (within the flawed manner) when it seemed to be encouraging commuters to return to the workplace. Some customers conflated the advertisements with authorities public service bulletins selling purchasing as a manner of boosting the economic system.

The misperception contained a grain of reality, as Dettol was the government’s corporate partner for sanitizing public transport. Certainly, a number of manufacturers in our analysis talked about partnerships with authorities as one of many advantages of the disaster. In the meantime, ads encouraging consumers to shop to “assist” rebuild the economic system (and companies in it) have proliferated.

Promoting that addresses social considerations is frequent, not simply in relation to COVID-19, however to a vary of causes the place customers are primed to see company options for every little thing from poverty to climate change.

Consuming with a conscience?

Our analysis reveals that such promoting is ceaselessly designed to affect how the general public understands social issues, and encourages folks to think about moral consumption as a way of helping.

Others have argued that such advertising and marketing associated to good causes “creates the looks of giving again, disguising the truth that it’s already based mostly in taking away.” Shoppers might be deterred from campaigning for extra radical change, believing they’ve already performed their half by means of “moral” buying.

One acquainted instance is when companies boast that a proportion of proceeds from sure merchandise goes to a social trigger. The amount donated is often small, whereas the income the brand new product generates for the corporate is appreciable.

As one other commentator put it: “If we insist that that is the one option to successfully tackle large social issues, we resign ourselves to a world dictated by shopper impulses.”

The dangers, then, of attaching a social situation to an promoting marketing campaign are appreciable—for the corporate, the patron, and the trigger itself. Our analysis means that not each time is the right time for advertising. We must always watch out for manufacturers bearing presents.

Maha Rafi Atal is a lecturer in world economic system on the University of Glasgow’s Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. Lisa Ann Richey is a professor of globalization at Copenhagen Business School.