How Companies are Marketing During COVID-19

Right now, our world is facing unprecedented times, the likes of nothing we have seen since World War II. People have had to adapt to a “black swan” event, caught nearly completely by surprise; with a near total meltdown of society, economies and ways of life. People had to quickly change their everyday routines; working remotely from home under stay-at-home orders.
Businesses had to adapt to these changing times as well. Advertisers quickly recognized that traditional self-promotion approaches were not only ineffective, but often in bad taste, and disconnected for the seriousness of the moment. Thus, advertisers have approached the marketing environment with more sentimental, sympathetic and patriotic themes, while steering clear of blatant self-promotion of their products. Others have attempted to lighten the mood and inject a little light-heartedness. Yet others recognized that masses of quarantined people glued to their mobile devices created a new opportunity for fun, noncommercial, digital based promotion, encouraging their customers to provide genuine testimonials and share their own self-created media.

For my 10x guide, I will examine how companies changed their marketing approach during these challenging times, and I will illustrate some of the different tactics and messages they are using to reach consumers. Most of these companies have executed their promotion through traditional television ads, others have done it through social media. I will examine all these different approaches below. From a 4-P’s perspective, most of the examples illustrated in this paper focus on only changes in their promotion strategies. A few also have adjusted pricing strategies.

The COVID-19 crisis did not just create a health crisis, it created an economic crisis. Recognizing the economic urgency, many companies are offering financial assistance or relief to their customers and they are promoting these efforts in their television advertisements. Three of the best examples of this that I found are in three television ads by State Farm, Acura, and Budweiser.

State Farm
State Farm is returning $2 billion to auto insurance holders for staying off the roads and staying at home. Putting checks into the hands of people who need them most right now. All auto policy holders will receive a 25% auto credit between March 20 and May 31, 2020 (via YouTube bio).
When evaluating State Farm from the 4 P’s, the biggest change for this company is promotion. They are promoting themselves showing their agents at home and urging their customers to stay home and receive a credit for not driving and doing their job to flatten the curve. The ad also strikes a sympathetic theme with their customer, using visuals that the stay-at-home public recognize from their daily lives in this new reality.

This campaign is entitled the “Good Neighbor Relief Program” and the company plans to return $2 million to customers, because their insureds are not driving nearly as much, and thus State Farm expects to pay out less in claims. You can see the full ad here:

Anticipating the economic downturn and consumer financial hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Acura is also providing financial relief to customers. In a recent television ad that hit the screen on April 3, 2020, Acura announced they would be offering special payment options, as well as payment deferrals and offering late fee waivers.

For people who are looking to purchase a new vehicle but may be uncertain during the COVID-19 outbreak, Acura is offering a 90-day payment deferral and special Annual Percentage Rate (APR) offers. Acura also announced that all service departments will remain open with special service valet for convenience and safety. By adjusting the APR, Acura is lowering the monthly payment for consumers. This is a change in their pricing strategy, because for many consumers the price is not the sticker price of the car, it is the monthly payment.

For some consumers, the 90-day payment deferral may be more attractive than the special APR rates, because many workers are experiencing short-term employment disruptions due to COVID-19. Payment deferrals may provide some consumers with the confidence they need to commit to a purchase. You can see the full ad here:

This ad also speaks to the emotional feelings of the moment. Recognizing the financial anxiety and health worries, Acura is trying to speak to both, and trying to put consumers mind at ease when they consider a major business transaction with Acura.

Budweiser, a company known for marketing excellence during the sports season, has taken a new approach: providing a form of general public assistance. They have enormous appeal to sports fans, but in a new ad released on March 25, 2020, Budweiser sends a new message “One Team”. In the ad, Budweiser announced that they will shift their sports marketing investments towards helping with the coronavirus pandemic. Budweiser is using professional sports stadiums all over the country as they team up with the American Red Cross to host blood drives needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic (via YouTube). Blood donations are currently critically low because the COVID-19 outbreak has discouraged people from venturing out to donate blood. By hosting these blood drives, Budweiser intends to help make blood more readily available to people who still need blood after an accident. The ad sends the message: let us all work together as “One Team” to help fight this pandemic and save lives. The sooner we do this, the sooner sports stadiums can get back to their main purpose, hosting games with all of us cheering and rooting for our favorite teams.

This ad is an example of corporate good citizenship. It also helps Budweiser stay present in the mind of their consumers and maintain top-of-mind awareness at a very challenging time for marketers.
You can see the full ad here:

Brand Awareness
Of course, nearly every industry in the world is feeling the effects of COVID-19, but perhaps none more than the sports industry. With sports at a literal halt right now, with no projected start anytime in the near future; college programs, professional athletics and the sporting public are all feeling the effects. What does an all sports entertainment channel, such as ESPN, have to televise right now? Well the answer is not much, at least nothing live. ESPN’s production department has gotten very creative with virtual Madden NFL tournaments and NBA 2K tournaments with stars from the NBA and the NFL squaring off against each other. They have even resorted to replaying past big-time sporting events. Sure, this may be fun to watch the first couple of times, but after a while it gets boring and only makes you want to play the game yourself.

ESPN has had to get creative with their content they are providing, but that has not stopped them from keeping up on their brand awareness, core value, and what they are truly about. Recognizing the impact of no sports on their loyal viewers, on March 30, 2020, ESPN released the following ad telling the feel-good stories over the last year as all sports fans, including myself, are reeling with the effects of no sports. Keeping up on their brand awareness is about all they can do right now from a promotion standpoint, but they will be back in a big way once sports return.

As this ad demonstrates, ESPN is doing a good job of finding creative, sympathetic ways of keeping up on their promotion during a difficult time for its viewers. The ad encourages its viewers to hang in there and gives hope for a return to normalcy. With no sporting events on right now, pumping out ads like this on television and across all social media platforms is getting peoples attention, and will encourage them to tune-in once sports get rolling again. The NFL Draft just wrapped up on ABC and ESPN, and I saw this ad multiple times. This is good for promoting themselves during the only live “sporting event” that has been on in over six weeks and keeping their audience hungry for the return of the sports they love.

Words of Encouragement
Perhaps the ultimate sports bombshell fell on March 24, 2020 when the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The postponement of the games became the first ever peacetime delay in Olympic history with the announcement in late March. NBC and team USA released the following ad on Twitter on April 2, 2020 sending words of encouragement to athletes and fans.

With this ad seen on NBC and on Twitter, NBC has officially began the process of promoting the 2021 games on NBC next summer. While this certainly was an unprecedented announcement, this ad does a good job of promoting the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and reminding people to tune in to the games next summer. With themes of “stay safe” and “same dream new year.” NBC recognizes the urgency of the moment for everyone and the unprecedented significance of the cancellations.

Destination Missoula and Glacier Country Tourism
We have also seen some really good brand awareness ads from companies and groups here at the state and local level in Montana. Destination Missoula, a community based tourism and marketing entity specializing in getting people to visit Missoula, released the following ad on Twitter and Facebook on March 31, 2020 with a message to the people of Missoula about their response to coronavirus and how they will be back and better than ever “when the dust settles”.

This ad does a very good job of promoting a place, therefore place and promotion both tie into this ad. Destination Missoula is reminding people of this wonderful place to play in and visit, but you must wait just a little bit longer. The ad reinforces the urgency of the moment, while reminding the audience what they love about Missoula and keeping them hungry for more. This is good promotion, and advises people that for now, to change their place to their house and stay inside.

Glacier Country Tourism also put out a similar ad on April 3, 2020 on their Facebook page saying they want people to stay inside and take a break from Glacier National Park and the rest of beautiful Flathead country. The underlying message is to “Love Montana from the Inside Out”.

Just like Destination Missoula, this is a very good ad at analyzing place and promoting its “product”. For the people of Montana, Glacier Country Tourism wants people to enjoy Montana from the comforts of your homes. The day will come when we can all explore the wonders of Montana again, but for now, shelter in place. Glacier Country Tourism does a nice job of promoting place and keeping its audience hungry for more. Both ads send a sympathetic message but also inform the public that now is not the time.

The final type of advertising I have seen for COVID-19 is engagement posts on social media, primarily Facebook. These types of ads are just a creative way to stay connected with customers and to keep them interested in your product or experience, without blatant self-promotion. That way, when everything settles down, customers will have top-of-mind awareness and hopefully will be lining up when the businesses start opening again.

Fairmont Hot Springs Resort
One of the best examples of this approach that I have seen is at the local level in southwest Montana. I work at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort as the Assistant Director of Marketing. Our Marketing department has been very creative employing social media at this sensitive moment. We decided to interact with our customers and offer resort packages as prizes through different contests we have been running on Facebook to inject something fun into their day. The goal is to take advantage of the opportunity to connect with the public, that are currently home-bound and glued to their mobile devices, just to kill time. An overarching goal is to utilize the contests to connect, inject a little fun and let the guest reminisce about their last or most memorable stay. The results are hundreds of guest testimonials, and photos that can be employed to attract new customers through photos of genuine guest experiences. In essence, we are employing our past guests to promote the resort through their own stories and media. Here are just two of the contests we have ran:

This post and related guest comments and photos can be seen at:

This Fairmont Facebook post can be viewed at the following link, along with the guest comments and photos.

These are just a couple of the contests Fairmont has been doing help keep people engaged. Overall, this is a difficult time for Fairmont, with state orders preventing the opening our pools until phase 2 of the reopening process. The least we can do is get people excited to come back once we get back to full operations. For now, the hotel is still open, and our restaurants are able to reopen on Monday, May 4, 2020, but pools will remain closed, until the Montana Governor brings the state to Phase 2. Until then, we have to promote the resort in creative ways during a crisis we never envisioned, but our marketing staff has adapted to the new advertising environment and done a very nice job of promoting, hoping there will be a line around the door when the resort is back to full operations.

Quinn’s Hot Springs
I have seen a similar strategy employed by other hotels and resorts. One example is Fairmont’s long-time competitor Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort. Just northwest of Missoula in Paradise, Montana, Quinn’s employed the idea of engaging with their customers on Facebook as well. Here is one example of what Quinn’s Hot Springs has been doing to engage:

Quinn’s is also doing a photo submission contest awarding 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes for the best submissions of the Quinn’s Hot Springs area. They are awarding free one-night stays in some of their nicest cabins on the Clark Fork River. This is a great way to get customers excited as they approach their re-opening date.

A second Quinn’s Hot Springs promotion is of their new pool complex. Currently under construction and expected to open sometime this summer, Quinn’s has people excited with an entire blog keeping people updated on the progress of construction. This is another form of feel-good promotion and engaging with customers to keep them excited, and hungry for more as they project an opening date of May 1, 2020 for the resort.
Overall, these are two very good examples for creative promotion on social media at a very sensitive time. Upbeat, fun promotions from both Fairmont and Quinn’s is great to see, as the hospitality industry is facing devastating times, while their customers contemplate an uncertain future. I am very impressed with how many local businesses have engaged and adapted on limited budgets during these times.

Marketers and companies have had to get very creative during these challenging times. The response has been incredible. Companies have quickly adapted and been stepping up to the plate big time helping their customers while promoting their brand at the same time. I hope with the examples I have provided; I was able to shed some context of how our world as marketers has adapted to the COVID-19 outbreak.

No one has the answer to how long it will be before we get back to normal. As marketers, and as human beings, we hope that we can get back to the way life was before COVID-19 sometime soon; but for now, so many companies have done an incredible job of changing their marketing strategy to find ways to resonate in the minds of consumers and frequently give back to their communities. We are all in this together, and we will all get through this together.



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