Following on from Part One, which looked at examples of creative comms in coronavirus, here is the other side of the coin – those who have not quite got their proposition ‘right’.

In the current climate, there is a likelihood for opportunistic behaviour to make a fast buck. However, not considering how your brand’s behaviour and outputs may be perceived is a huge risk.

In such a visible, polarised world, putting profit, sales or perceived vanity metrics – such as social reach – ahead of brand values and longer-term positioning is rarely a good thing.

Continuing where we left off (along the advertising route), the decision to not pull potentially-sensitive ads can be an issue. For example, see Norweigian Cruise Lines’ choice to carry on with a huge campaign which included upbeat cruise ads placed during a CNN show segment about thousands isolated on a cruise ship due to coronavirus. Sometimes it’s worth taking a hit. Was there a possibility to change the messaging? Maybe.

Also over the pond, American cleaning brand Lysol took a hit when its upbeat cleaning adverts struck multiple nerves at a time when hygiene felt like a matter of life and death. Many products were out of stock during lockdown, and some people felt the tone and timing of the ads was in poor taste.

Kudos where it’s due – the team at KFC UK realised the potential PR issues and paused ads about being ‘finger-licking good’. Albeit, after c.150 complaints.

Moving onto a different type of risk, insurers have been in hot water over refusals to pay out to businesses affected by coronavirus. Hiscox, RSA and Zurich are three of eight insurance companies being taken to court over refusal to pay out to cover disruption from a “notifiable disease”, based on wording of the policies. Read more in this piece from the Financial Times.

Next up, the aptly-nicknamed ‘d*ck list’. The UK Businesses Coronavirus Response for Workers spreadsheet was created back in March by PhD social scientist Catherine Oliver, who originally meant it to be shared with friends. She was “furious” at how the pandemic “[reveals] the deep inequalities in society that we’ve known for a long time.”

The list detailed companies that had allegedly not treated employees fairly, or acted in a less than understanding manner. For clarity, I realise situations are very complicated – my point is how you treat and communicate with colleagues and suppliers is (rightly) becoming as important as how you treat your consumers.


Among those making the list were:

Would being a ‘better’ company make a difference in the long-term? Who knows, but the risk of purpose-washing and not caring about your colleagues’ health can be a damaging one – internally with employee engagement, but also being seen to not live up to one’s inclusive brand values and purpose.

As The Vice piece says, “when we return to normal, non-pandemic times, it may be useful to know which companies you should support and which ones you should swerve.”

The external view of companies can (and should?) be massively affected by internal goings-on, as whistleblowers, social shares of all-staff emails and my personal favourite – the ‘disgruntled employee’ – goes to show. 

On that point, if you do have a social media team, make sure they are onside – May’s “truth twisters” tweet from the @UKcivilservice shone the light on how important this is. My golden rule: don’t do anything internally that you wouldn’t be happy with sharing externally.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a pandemic blog without mentioning the eponymous beer brand (Corona Extra, to give it its full name). Yes, it is very hard to predict that your brand may be associated with a deadly airborne virus, and sales were hit, but maybe it would’ve been wise to postpone launching the brand extension Corona Hard Seltzer

As brands, businesses and organisations move from survival to recovery, it is important to retain the awareness of what is, and what is not, the ‘right’ moves to make.

Keep in mind how this could be perceived by your stakeholders, colleagues and consumers, remembering always-on consumers increasingly consider a company’s actions before making a decision. So try not to act like a ‘d*ck’.

Adam Driver is founder and MD at strategic communications consultancy Authentic Comms.