Last year, in an unprecedented event in modern history, COVID-19 ground the world to a halt. In most countries, lockdowns were put in place to help stop the spread of the virus which impacted many institutions and businesses worldwide. This caused panic, anxiety and fear as partners and clients lost business. Workers also got laid-off and consumers found it challenging to find many essential goods. But amidst the chaos and confusion at the start of the pandemic, there were brands whose quick response and humanity provided a much-needed lift that society needed.
Clorox and Reckitt Benckiser
Clorox said that since February, there has been a 500% surge in demand for some of their disinfecting products, which was, according to their CEO, Benno Dorer, unprecedented for “any consumer goods company.”1 Their overall sales jumped 15% for the first quarter and sales for their cleaning segment (e.g., disinfectant wipes, bleach and Pine-Sol) jumped 32%. The company also reported that their international sales grew 11% in the quarter and that they saw double-digit volume growth in every region.2
According to their CEO, their success can also be attributed to their top three priorities during the crisis:
- Protect the health, safety and well-being of their employees
- Maximize supply to get the products where they are needed
- Support caregivers and people most impacted by COVID-19
The Clorox Foundation also donated $5 million to Direct Relief, the CDC Foundation and American Red Cross to support caregivers as they battle COVID-19.3 Overall, the brand has given $14 million globally in cash and products to help fight against COVID-19.4
Reckitt Benckiser (RB), the makers of Lysol and Dettol, also experienced record sales. Quarter one saw sales rose 13% due to strong demand across their hygiene and health divisions. Net revenue increased by 12.3% (in three months till the end of March), their best quarterly performance since 1999. The company’s online sales also climbed by 50% in the same quarter.5
Their success was also boosted by their commitment to the safety and well-being of customers and consumers during the pandemic:6
- Protect all consumers, their families and colleagues from the spread of COVID-19
- Ensure access to safe and affordable products
- Maximize supply and production to ensure access and availability for consumers
- Commit to regular pricing
Through Dettol, RB donated £5.5 million in cash and products to help fight the coronavirus outbreak in China. Their CEO Laxman Narasimhan shared, “We immediately mobilized our experts in China and beyond as soon as the outbreak was identified. In addition to the moral responsibility we feel, we also have an important functional role to play in enhancing personal disinfection through providing enhanced access to products which can break the chain of infection.” 7
With these initiatives, both brands presented themselves with empathy and transparency, an item in Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) “Brand Marketing Through the Coronavirus Crisis.” It says that kindness and humility are critical at a time when people are feeling vulnerable.8
Although brands like Clorox and Reckitt Benckiser were posed to succeed in the pandemic due to their products’ nature, it still took character and leadership to take steps to ensure that front-liners and consumers are supported and have access to disinfectants at a regular price.
Ford, 3M and GE
Automobile giant, Ford, teamed up with world leader in power generation and water technologies, GE, and industrial, safety and consumer products manufacturer, 3M, to repurpose its manufacturing capacity towards producing respirators and ventilators to fight the pandemic.9
Ford, 3M and GE’s efforts didn’t produce record sales like Clorox and RB; instead, they made an investment for the future, aiding the treatment of COVID-19 patients and betting that consumers would likely remember brands that were there with them during the crisis.
Ford’s president, Darren Walker, in his letter to colleagues and friends10 quoted Martin Luther, Jr. who said that “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” regarding the importance of philanthropy at a time like this.
Aside from re-purposing its production line, Ford also created the “COVID-19 Donation Match” program where employees can contribute up to $500,000. Ford then matched to support efforts against hunger and lack of shelter and mobility in 20 countries.11
Even with their factories and stores temporarily closed due to the pandemic, some fashion brands didn't sit idly by. Instead, they pivoted for solutions12, as the world and their communities struggled with the pandemic.13
- Ralph Lauren – Donated $10M to global response efforts, as well as produced masks and isolation gowns
- Capri Holdings (Michael Kors and Versace) – Donated $3M to hospitals and local communities, as well as the Chinese Red Cross
- DKNY – Donated 100% of t-shirt sales retailing at $25/each to the NYC Mayor’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund
- Bulgari – Helped Italy's Spallanzani Hospital acquire a state-of-the-art 3D high definition microscope and manufactured bottles of hand cleansers and sanitizers by way of their fragrance manufacturing partner ICR
- Prada – Produced 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 masks for healthcare personnel
Once the pandemic is over these high-profile fashion brands also hope to be remembered by shoppers not by their products or shows, but as friends who were there with them during the pandemic.
Doing the right thing pays
By being human, these brands have shown the world that they are part of the global community and not just after the people’s pockets. In an age of slippery loyalty, these brands have bolstered their friendship with people, which can be called upon after the pandemic.
Without meaning to, they have demonstrated two crucial brand marketing principles during a pandemic, which, again might serve them well once everything returns to normal:
- Present with empathy and transparency
- Associate your brand with good