Let’s Talk Coronavirus & Marketing

An image showing a girl wearing a surgical mask, texting. Text overlay says "Coronavirus & marketing: some things to think about".

Shoot, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? Close to two years, actually… and a lot has happened since then. We moved from Knoxville, TN to Phoenix, AZ because my husband got promoted. Then eight months later we moved to Nashville, TN because he was offered an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. During that time I transitioned from being a standard office employee to being a full-time remote one and because of that I’ve not wanted to spend much additional time in front of my computer.

Now that there’s a pandemic, taking some time to sit in front of the computer longer than I usually do doesn’t really seem to be that big of a deal. I’ve got nowhere to go and nothing else to do (except laundry… there’s always laundry). March was a wild ride, kicking off with a tornado causing catastrophic damage just blocks from our new place, displacing us for four days and leaving us with an empty fridge. And now COVID-19.

So let’s talk about this pandemic, shall we? After all, Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind. In the US, most of us have been asked to stay home, non-essential businesses are closed, entire workforces have transitioned to working remotely practically overnight, thousands of people become unemployed overnight, restaurants are doing take-out only, grocery store workers and delivery drivers are suddenly among the most important in the workforce, schools have shut down for the rest of the year, and hospitals and healthcare workers are already struggling to keep up with the infected. People have panic-hoarded toilet paper, Lysol, hand sanitizer, and bread. Things are uncertain for many people, and we’re all a bit (or a lot) scared. So let’s talk about it and how marketing factors into it.

Everyone loves to laugh… and sometimes we have to in order to feel better. But where’s the line?

A screenshot of a social media post, showing a joke about coronavirus.

When things started getting serious, some companies started posting jokes on social media making. And I get it… sometimes the best way to cope with something scary is to make jokes about it. Laughing makes you feel better, and it can help make scary things less scary. But jokes can easily go to a tasteless place very quickly, and even making jokes can be seen as tone deaf. If you’ve seen the movie JokerĀ with Joaquin Phoenix you can at least appreciate that laughter when its inappropriate can be kind of funny… but it can also be awkward, uncomfortable, and even anger-inducing. And that’s pretty much what it’s like seeing jokes about COVID-19 right now.

When things started getting bad here, I noticed how companies were handling things and made note. In some cases, I even unliked pages based on their response to Coronavirus. The image to the right shows one such post from a hair salon I followed on Facebook. I blacked out as much of the identifying info as possible, but this was posted on March 11. An acquaintance of mine works at this salon, which was why I liked the page. It’s not in my area, I’ve never been to it, and I have no plans of going there. I had liked the page to support someone I know (and because I love seeing hair stuff). But this particular post struck me as distasteful and tone-deaf during a time that was already proving to change lives drastically. So I unliked the page. It was the first of many, it turned out.

My issue with it wasn’t necessarily the fact that it showed a total disregard for the serious. I’m sarcastic and love to laugh. What bothered me more is that there’s really nothing here telling customers what they’re doing to keep everyone safe. Were they business as usual, or did they take extra precautions to make sure customers and staff weren’t exposed? Had they changed their booking procedures, acceptance of new clients, or cleaning habits? Were they limiting the number of customers and stylists allowed in the salon at a time? Were they waiving cancellation fees for those who were sick or uncomfortable coming in?

This wasn’t a post made in January, before COVID-19 was really a thing to be super worried about here in the US. By the time this post went up, there were over 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US. The White House had changed its tune and had started taking it seriously, signing the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 into law (on March 6). Travel into the US from various countries had been suspended for weeks already, with those bans being extended further. Entire countries were already shut down, and thousands had already died. At this point, it was well on its way to being a global pandemic, and gearing up to be serious here in the US. But here we are, making jokes.

I’ve gone back and checked this salon’s page since and it took a week for them to address exactly what they were doing to keep the salon clean and staff/customers safe. Five days later, their city ordered non-essential businesses to close for two weeks, and they shut down. That’s since been extended. There hasn’t been a single other joke about COVID-19 on this page at all. It appears they realized that it’s no laughing matter.

The bottom line is that I’ve come to realize that I want to know that the places I shop or get services from are taking this seriously, for the sake of their employees and their customers. We’ve seen the effect this novel Coronavirus has had on other countries, and while we’ve braced ourselves for it to some degree, it’s this kind of glib response to it that’s still causing harm. Everything from the lack of action by our elected officials to the disregard (by citizens) for shelter-in-place rules… it’s all going to affect how long this lasts and how many lives are changed because of it.

So… what can I do to make sure I don’t lose fans, or worse, customers, during this outbreak?

It’s a balancing act right now for sure, from a marketing standpoint. Do you go about business as usual, posting like nothing is going on, maybe after posting a heart-felt statement about what your office has done to shift? Or do you post memes and feel-good videos, in an effort to distract but stay relevant? What about posting news items relevant to how your area and/or industry has been affected? How about a sale, encouraging people to buy online and have it shipped, or better yet, offering a discount for curb-side pickup? Maybe you’ve shifted your product offerings and are now making essential items, or you’re now suddenly targeting people who are now home working, exercising, and schooling their kids? Or do you shut down entirely, fire everyone, and go dark on social media until it’s all over, hoping you can all recover whenever that is?

There’s really no “right” answer here because ultimately, it depends. It depends, in short, on your company, your market, your target audience, and your plans and strategies. So I can’t really tell you how, exactly, you should be handling things.

I can tell you, however, that people are starting to notice certain things more and more. Not everyone is very vocal about it, but I assure you that consumers are paying more attention to how companies of all kinds treat their employees. They’re starting to make note of sick leave and work-from-home policies. They’re asking if workers are being provided with things to help keep them safe, regardless of whether or not they come into contact with customers. People are questioning when companies deem themselves “essential” and they don’t seem like they are. They’re noticing companies who have shifted production to things we need now: hand sanitizer, masks, and ventilators. People are starting to reconsider whether-or-not they should be supporting companies who aren’t taking this pandemic seriously and aren’t treating their employees right during it. And that’s going to, no doubt, have lasting effects on all companies after this is over.

So there’s some stuff to think about, and things to evaluate, before posting on social media, making site updates, or writing blog posts about COVID-19.

Featured Photo by Anna Shvets, Downloaded from Canva

One thought on “Let’s Talk Coronavirus & Marketing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Pronouns: She/Her
Thats all.