[Editor's Note] Advertising to Empathizing: A & M comes off age in the face of a pandemic

Saloni Surti
New Update

As the lockdown gets tighter and challenges multiply, Advertising & Marketing industry unlearns to emerge as more resilient, understanding, and helpful. Like it was always meant to be.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were discussing 2020 Advertising & Marketing trends? Quarter plans were being made, campaigns were being scheduled, and spends allocated - little did we know what lay ahead. In hindsight, however, we realize that every global crisis has a local and niche effect. The pre-COVID-19 (yes, the term is being widely used) days are now a distant memory. 

The first few days of the pandemic in India were rocky. A lot of quick decisions had to be made in terms of marketing. Ads manager had to be stopped, content buckets reevaluated, and campaigns postponed. It felt criminal to talk about anything but the pandemic and rightly so. In such sensitive times, how does a brand of functional use play any role in the lives of panicked citizens and their own employees?

With a little trial and error, global motivation, and internal brain storming, we found our rhythm and now have communication initiatives that aren’t only reassuring but are inclusive. A few stand out for reasons including innovation, greater purpose, human touch, and foresight. 

The global scenario saw some strapping initiatives such as KFC halting its ‘finger-lickin’ good campaign in light of social distancing. Coca Cola Philippines, halted its commercial advertising to direct the fund towards fighting COVID-19. Brands also went on to express solidarity by tweaking their logo to reflect social distancing. 

In India too, Starbucks siren and the Parle G baby disappeared from the brand creatives to practice self-isolation and social distancing.

Media & Entertainment brands took to Live events in a bid to raise the morale of their viewers, while television channels brought back nostalgia driven content such as Ramayan, Mahabharat, Shaktiman, and Byomkesh Bakshi. YouTube too has been giving suggestions of age old shows such as Idhar Udhar, Yeh Hai Zindagi, and Dekh Bhai Dekh on its homepage. 

What we’re seeing now is the post-COVID-19 ecosystem, one that is working towards a common goal - getting through the global crisis as one global family. 

Think Ahead 

While the uncertainty of the pandemic makes it difficult to anticipate what comes next, certain trends & traits, however, are evident. For instance, when the initial signs of COVID-19 appeared in India, Mankind Pharma preempted the battle the medical and service staff would have to fight in the coming days and created a short video wishing their well being and safety. With the lockdown in place and the frontline buzzing with heroes, the brand released the communication.  The brand also pledged INR 51 Crore for COVID-19 Relief Fund. 

Innovative Production 

Almost everything can be done from home, except for full-fledged production. How do you create a video unit while Working From Home? Apple was one of the first brands to nudge the ecosystem towards creating from smartphones. The phone first video phenomenon featuring real faces came to the fore as a solution. 

Amazon India created #TogetherForIndia featuring pictures and videos of their frontline heroes functioning during the lockdown urging consumers to #StayHome. Further, four ecommerce brands, Big Basket, Grofers, MedLifeCare, and Amazon India came together featuring their workforce who had a message for the rest of the world. 

The brand has managed to keep the communication alive, relatable, and safe for everyone featured in those ads. 

Airtel India too has rolled out a video featuring its workforce for a television commercial.

Also Read: Expert View: The COVID-19 Impact on AdSpends

Think Beyond Brand 

I recently came across a column on how brands finally got causevertising right. Brands are now not only putting their money where their mouth is but also giving advice that goes beyond their product and services. Burger King France, released a creative showing its consumers how to make an almost Whoppr through store bought ingredients.

Volvo too released a creative which goes against its brand ideology of ‘Safest place to be’ urging consumers to stay home. 

In India, while their mascot practices social distancing, Parle G is donating biscuits worth INR 3 Crore to Medical & administrative staff.

Bisleri too donated safe packaged drinking water to Indian Frontline Fighters. 


Further, DineOut India became DineOut Later, Stay Home Now across its social media handles and the food ordering app, Zomato is now a home cooked food fan page.

Travel tech brand Goibibo, has been urging consumers to take a trip to their bed, shower, and more in light of social distancing.

All these brands have been going above and beyond their offerings to strive for the larger good. 

Brands understand the gravity of the situation and have been going beyond business purpose to fulfill their moral obligation, urging consumers to stay indoors. With the industry being accused of Woke Washing last year, the ecosystem has indeed travelled in a full circle to reach the epitome of causevertising. 

People First…

A number of brands have an internal consumer first that is employee first approach. On top of the mind example would be Swiggy India who always kept its delivery partners and CRM executives at the heart of its campaign. However, production constraints have put the actual heroes on the screen, with multiple brands showing their workforce in action during a time of crisis. 

Ola Foods gave a glimpse of its kitchen and team reiterating the safety measures the brand undertakes. Like mentioned earlier, brands such as Amazon India, Grofers, Big Basket and Airtel too have been keeping their ground force the face of all much deserved exposure. 

When the lockdown first hit, mankind and business were jolted with a shock. The A & M ecosystem came to a sudden halt, mirroring the gaping flaws that we had collectively managed to overlook in the years that went by. But as we recover and attempt to survive, a COVID-19 ecosystem and economy evolved, one that is more resilient and reliant on coexistence. 

As and when we rebuild, it is important that all dynamics of this ecosystem take these realizations in their stride to start afresh and achieve the goal that motivated us to enter this industry in the first place. 

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