Marketing During a Pandemic

Sara Gilson

April 29, 2020

Promoting businesses on a day-to-day basis is already difficult, let alone during a pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world, businesses shifted their marketing approach to adapt to the new state of the world and economy. Many businesses postponed or cancelled advertisement campaigns entirely. Some businesses addressed the pandemic in new advertisements, and others continued advertising in the same way they did before the virus. The way companies advertise and promote their products has rapidly changed over the past few months for large corporations as well as local, independent businesses.

Once states across the U.S. began to close down, businesses began to mass email consumers with updates on their handling of the virus. Companies such as Nike, American Eagle, Macy’s and Meijer, to name a few, sent out emails regarding the virus. These emails addressed concerns about sanitation practices and social distancing. With every new social distancing policy, stay-at-home order or shuttered businesses came hordes of email updates. These large companies are able to stay afloat and continue to provide services via mail or pick-up. Unfortunately, other small businesses such as hair salons, nail salons, bookstores and more had to shut down if their states issued an executive order that deemed their business “nonessential.” The emails from those companies typically include apologies for the inconvenience, a potential reopen date and a request for “continued support during these difficult times.”

Some businesses that are able to remain open are shifting their focus to help combat the virus. For example, Ford Motor Company has shifted from making cars to making ventilators under the Defense Production Act for $336 million, according to CNBC. New Balance began producing masks and according to Time, LVMH, a luxury goods firm in Paris, began producing hand sanitizer. These are just a few businesses that have shifted to creating products that help combat the spread of the virus or help treat those who have contracted the virus. Of course, these companies have the capital to switch their production lines to other materials, and oftentimes, like Ford, they have a monetary incentive to do so as well.

Other companies that don’t have the resources or facilities or cannot afford to shift to producing different products have found new ways to move forward and keep their businesses afloat. These businesses continue their advertisements despite the fact that according to The New York Times, “Overall spending on digital ads for March and April is down 38 percent from what companies had expected to lay out, and ad spending has fallen 41 percent on TV, 45 percent on radio, 43 percent in print publications, and 51 percent on billboards and other outdoor platforms.”

One company that continued with their advertisement plan, with a slight delay, was Constellation Brands with producers and markets for Corona Extra. They decided to move forward with rolling out advertisements for their newest product, four flavors of hard seltzers. It was already produced and ready to be shipped out to stores, and the advertisement campaign had been in place for months before the COVID-19 pandemic. They did experience backlash due to the word Corona being a part of coronavirus, and some people said the timing of the product release was insensitive. According to CNBC, after the new product release, “Constellation stock was down nearly 6 percent.”

There has been some even harsher backlash for brands that attempt to promote their products during this time. One example is the backlash Kim Kardashian faced after her shapewear company SKIMS rolled out a new advertisement. The SKIMS promotion said the company was donating 20% of the money from its orders to coronavirus funds up to $1 million dollars. In her Instagram post about the promotion people slammed Kardashian. Many people said they “couldn’t afford rent let alone shapewear.” One of the more common comments was “people are dying, Kim.” This is a reference to “Keeping up with the Kardashians” when Kourtney Kardashian told Kim to stop worrying about the diamond earring she lost because “people are dying, Kim!”

An interesting juxtaposition to the backlash or pushback larger companies are facing for their promotions and advertisements during this time is the support that local businesses are receiving. Local businesses such as restaurants, bookstores, jewelry shops and more had to shut down with little to no notice and had to shift the way they work to keep making money. One independent business that shifted the way they work is Schuler’s Books which has two locations, one in Okemos, Michigan and one in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Schuler’s transitioned to shipping books only after they had to close their doors to the public. They have begun to promote products such as puzzles, cards and board games on their Facebook page and have received generous support. They are continually selling out of the puzzles and games they post, and they are shipping a decent number of books to loyal customers both in and out of the state of Michigan.

While COVID-19 has shifted the way people live and shop, businesses are adapting. Promoting a business is hard during a pandemic, particularly for local and independent businesses that don’t have large teams of people dedicated to and trained in marketing. We can take comfort in the fact that people are supporting local and independent businesses during a time as difficult as this. If you are able to, find a small business in your hometown and ask them how you can support them right now.

Sara Gilson is a senior studying Professional Writing with a focus on editing. After graduation she hopes to work for a publishing house. When she’s not in class Sara can be found at work, copyediting for The State News. In her limited free time Sara enjoys reading young adult books, spending time with her cat and watching the latest movies. You can follow her on Twitter @saragilson13