Seeing the future through the rear-view mirror

November 8th, 2022 by Beth Clayden

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Remember March 2020?

Kantar conducted a survey to see how the looming pandemic was shaping the perception of brands. As a frighteningly uncertain future unfolded day-to-day, consumers expected that companies would play their part. For example, Kantar’s survey found that:

• 78% of consumers believed brands should help them in their daily lives
• 75% say brands should inform people of what they’re doing, and
• 74% thought companies should not exploit the situation.

As the pandemic progressed, the public warmed to messages of businesses that were standing by their side. However, the campaigns that shone were those that allowed consumers to help others. Brands like Pret A Manger which provided essential workers with both discounted and free products, for example, were favoured by the public. North London’s Camden Town brewery, who rebranded the popular Camden Hells lager as ‘Camden Heroes’, gave away a six-pack of the beer to every NHS worker as a thank you.


At the same time, some companies appeared to exploit the situation for their own needs, with the inevitable catastrophic impact on their hard-won reputation.

When the government ordered non-essential stores to close to combat the spread of COVID, the high street became a ghost town overnight. Only pharmacies and food shops remained. Oh yes, and Sports Direct.

The company said it was:

“Uniquely well-placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis”.

Days later, after a humiliating public spat with the government, Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley was forced to close the doors, creating a reputational black hole that could take years to rectify.

As the UK enters a new age of uncertainty, this time economically, brands can learn a good deal from the recent past.

Some businesses are better placed than others to support struggling families as inflation reaches a 30-year high. Still, it’s worth considering how marketing choices can now impact brand reputations further down the line.

Showing empathy for those having a tough time is a no-brainer, but how that is done can make a big difference in ROI for brand messaging.

If a brand you love helps raise a smile during tough times, that’s a bonus. It reinforces loyalty in a positive way.

But in moments of social crisis, it would be beneficial for brands to step up to help their consumers actively support hard-hit communities. This creates a virtuous circle of brand love, supporting the customers’ purchasing decisions with a small act of generosity. And who wouldn’t want generosity as a brand value?

But beware of the risk of self-interest. Consumers can smell it a mile off and will punish you for it. Just ask Mr Ashley.

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