Time for brands to step up?

We’re living through a crisis that calls everything into question. What’s important? What’s true? Who can we trust? In such a time people quite understandably first turn to governments and governing bodies as the source for support and guidance. So, what role should brands play?

They too are part of our daily life. Shouldn’t they also play a role in helping people through this, providing help and support where possible? But, how does a brand do this in a genuine way, in a sensitive way? No one wants a brand to blatantly and greedily profit from the misfortune of others, but isn’t it true that people do demand that brands play a role?

The answer seems to be ‘yes’. In a global study carried out by Edelman , 62% of people believe their country will not make it through the crisis without brands playing a critical role in the fight against COVID-19.

Perhaps this was eloquently put on display only this week when the President of the US made dangerous assertions that injecting bleach could be a solution to Coronavirus. In response, Lysol owners Reckitt Benckiser stepped up to publish reassurance and guidance to people against this. In this instance the brand is responding rather than proactively doing something to help people but it highlights the fact that brands have a voice, and have a role to play.didtheyhelp

Beyond such newsworthy quips, people are seriously holding brands to account for the responsibility they command. The website www.didtheyhelp.com is surfacing whether a company or celebrity has been active in showing support and just as EsteeLaundry puts a spotlight on brands for taking questionable actions, it is emerging as a tool for people to use in a world rife with mistrust.

Thankfully I work for a company that has been positively active and thus generates a rating of ‘+2’ on this site thanks to its action in making hand sanitizers in our factories and donating to hospitals; it’s great to see so many more brands and companies taking actions to help communities.

The current crisis has also prompted us to think of the larger role brands play in society. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer from 2017 to 2019 we saw a shift from half (51%) to two thirds (65%) of consumers around the world wanting brands to deliver a better society. This trend will only be accelerated by the pandemic.

Brand responses vary, some seemingly taking the moment to make significant changes, others fostering new partnerships, and some simply focusing on action for communities:

  • Upscale clothing company Rag & Bone lowers their prices indefinitely, with a letter from their founder explaining “The time for buying stuff for the sake of it is over. I for one am buying only things that I need… and for me, a damn good t-shirt can make me feel a whole lot better than a disposable one.
  • Brands (ex. Hyatt hotels) and states (ex. New York State) have announced free partnership with Headspace, app designed to promote positive mental health
  • Frito-Lay calling on brands to take action and listing how they are supporting (jobs; meals; relief)

From what I’ve seen so far right now is a sensitive moment and brands are taking action as they should be. It is a time for brands to step up and play a role to support people just as Frito-Lay calls out. The brands that do so may be remembered for doing so and benefit in the long term; the brands that sit back and do nothing may be called out and lose relevance. A brand’s intentions aside, now is the time to act and do something for the good of society.

After the dangers of the crisis are passed, what will we remember? What will be the enduring impact on brands? I hope that brands consider their purpose more generally, and all this time brand leaders are reflecting in isolation is spent considering the purpose a brand has in society and the actions we are seeing are not just a flash in the pan, but a start of something.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground” (Wangari Maathai).


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