Brand Messaging in Times of Crisis

As we welcomed in 2020, no one could have predicted the tumultuous and historical days that lay ahead.

The author(s)

  • Rachel Rodgers Creative Excellence, Ipsos US
  • Menaka Gopinath President, NA, Ipsos SMX-Communities
  • Seth Traum Managing partner, Ipsos Strategy3 North America
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As we welcomed in 2020, no one could have predicted the tumultuous and historical days that lay ahead. But here we are. For months we have been trying to weather and understand one crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic. Simultaneously, we have been forced to acknowledge another crisis, one that has been deliberately and painfully overlooked in America – racial injustice. Brands are being held to a high standard, expected to communicate in a thoughtful, effective and authentic way without seeming disingenuous or opportunistic. This is a new pressure point for brands, because a failure to appropriately respond to consumer expectation will create a new crisis for that brand.

Ipsos has identified four keys companies can follow to avert their very own crisis.

  • Messaging Alone Doesn’t Work: Messaging needs to be unique to a brand, mention specific actions, and align with its equities, or it will get lost in the sea of sameness. It is not enough for brands to acknowledge a problem and ‘stand in solidarity.’
  • Prior Actions are Important: Brands that have taken past actions to support an issue will be credited as authentic. If other brands want to support a cause, they must first demonstrate their commitment.
  • Brands Must Do, Then Say: With racial injustice, brands are seen as part of the system that prolongs it. Brands must define how they are helping society or reforming themselves, including admitting past faults and publicly taking corrective actions.
  • Actions Must be Maintained: Actions will be continuously monitored, and brands will be called out if they go off the path they have promised. Consumers are using their wallets to do their talking, and the gap between what people say and what they do is lessening.

Brand Response to Covid-19 Crisis

As the coronavirus crisis hit, brands were quick to react, but the messages were all the same. Although nice, these messages quickly got swept away in the sea of sameness. One member of the Ipsos SMX Online Community said, “An excessive number of brands are reiterating the "we're in this together" theme. It's overdone and cliched.”

Ipsos data highlights the ineffectiveness of such messaging with fewer than 20% stating they can connect this messaging to a specific brand or company. While the world is different, we have seen that the rules for successful creative are still in place. The COVID-19 crisis exposed that people want messaging that is relevant and mentions specific actions so it can link to the brand and the consumer can easily make the connection. Recent Ipsos data reveals 50% were tired of seeing brands just offer support and solidarity while 69% wanted to hear what brands had to offer in terms of  new solutions for the new situations everyone is in. Finally, we learned people yearned for lighter-hearted content. It was because of the stress and seriousness of the pandemic; people were looking for a brief break from this reality. With 56% of consumers stating that brands were trying too hard to make a connection with them during this time, brand messaging during a crisis must juggle the elements of connection, action and creativity to have an impact.

Brand Response to Black Lives Matter

Like the COVID-19 crisis, people were looking for brands to speak up and acknowledge the call for racial justice sweeping the nation With many brands putting out ads addressing racism, these messages were also quickly lost in the sea of sameness. Instead, consumers state they want meaningful action from brands. For instance, 58% not only want brands to make a statement against racism, but also want them to show what they have done to create diversity within their company.

Brands who made the misstep of releasing messaging without action were called out for their apparent hypocrisy, and social media spread these stories quickly and widely. However, a backlash on social media is not the only consequence to hypocritical or inauthentic messaging. With 42%about the BLM movement is the case, (this number rises for young, Black, or urban consumers), many are now willing to break up with brands. New websites such as https://didtheyhelp.com/ have been developed to actively share how companies have reacted to the Coronavirus pandemic, BLM movement & LGBTQ rights, making it even easier to track performance.

With the COVID-19 crisis with us for an undetermined time and the increasing calls for equality, brand communications and actions must rise to a new level to have an impact with consumers. Messaging with platitudes and generic words will not be memorable. However, messaging that is authentic, connects clearly with distinctive assets, and highlights a brand’s actions on issues will resonate with people.

During a crisis, ads also need to highlight what actions a company is taking to show they are about more than just words. And, brands must be committed to maintaining these efforts. Getting your messaging right during turbulent times allows your brand to avert a crisis, rather than being branded during the crisis.

The author(s)

  • Rachel Rodgers Creative Excellence, Ipsos US
  • Menaka Gopinath President, NA, Ipsos SMX-Communities
  • Seth Traum Managing partner, Ipsos Strategy3 North America

Media & Brand Communication