How Not To Fall Fowl Of ‘COVID-Washing’
9 September 2020
Author: Jasmine Waters
We’ve seen it over every newspaper, programme break and social promotion – coronavirus isn’t just a pandemic that take a virus form. The mention of COVID-19 has understandably taken up as much space as possible, extending into various branding and marketing campaigns. As we cautiously begin to move away from the daily grind of lockdown life, now may be the optimum time for brands to reassess whether their narrative storytelling is chiming the right notes. What can we anticipate the consumer mood to be and how can we avoid the pitfalls?
What is ‘COVID-washing’?
As a result of the onslaught of corona-led news updates and daily bulletins, messages of solidarity and empathetic understanding have seeped into brand narratives across the world. By mid-April, most manufacturers were referencing COVID in some form through their product marketing, either falling into the traps of acknowledging the destruction, or simply using the climate to further push a new release or collection. This in turn prompted the coining of the phrase ‘COVID-washing’, meaning to co-opt disaster for profit, much like greenwashing. It has led many to question whether brand output has been truly and authentically empathetic, arguing that adverts that don’t feel sincere merely seem to be a copy of those that have gone before it. As consumers have continued to see the ‘we’re here for you’ style narrative at an almost back-to-back rate, brands risk being tuned out as a result of not wishing to be showered in further pandemic reminders.
What do consumers want?
Consumers now want complete reassurance that brands and businesses will make product and marketing decisions that truly prioritise their wellbeing and understanding. As we collectively emerge into some kind of light, outlook is beginning to change to wanting to interact with brands in a more positive way. Some suggest that this could be comprised of a two-tailed approach – keeping a similar sort of empathy from earlier months infused with a new kind of uplifting motto, such as providing a spotlight for partners you’re working with, causes you care about. This again comes back to the subject of transparency. Those who can show and communicate the most will be the more successful, with consumers increasingly interested in the background of both products and the brands themselves. It’s important to remember that consumers will come back to you when they’re ready and will seek out brand narratives and messages in their own time. This shouldn’t stop brands from empathising or sharing their voice, but instead use it as an opportunity to carefully consider the value of the authentic voice that can truly speak the loudest.