Opinion

Brands giving back in an era of uncertainty

We find ourselves in a strange and worrying time. But there are brands out there who are spreading some joy by rethinking the role they can play in people's lives and finding new ways to connect.

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By Jess Jones
Posted 09. 04. 2020
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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a sombre atmosphere over the world, it’s refreshing to see brands punctuating the mood with acts of kindness and generosity. With the market thrown upside-down pretty much overnight, it’s far from business as usual. Instead, we’re seeing brands taking action - innovating and adapting in order to help, inspire and give back to suffering communities.

At D&P, we’ve always believed how vital it is for a brand to establish and act on a core purpose. It’s the ‘why’ that underpins everything a brand does. It impacts heavily on the total brand experience - and it’s never been more important than right now. Brands are reconsidering their reasons for existing, beyond pure commercial models. By acting on their core values and focussing on their behaviour, more and more brands are understanding the difference they can make in the world, and loyal consumers will remember that once we return to normality.

Let’s take a look at some great brands who are doing good and giving back...

To house-bound isolators

With the Government lockdown spelling potential disaster for the restaurant & bar sector, it’s inspiring to see brands bouncing back from shutdowns in order to provide isolated customers with some joy, free of charge. McDonalds has released its coveted McMuffin recipe online for food fans to recreate from the comfort of their own kitchen. Pret and Greggs have also followed suit. No sign of KFC’s mysterious 11 herbs and species yet but we have our fingers crossed…

For those craving a finer dining experience, restaurants including Mac and Wild have been sharing recipes off their menu on Instagram for budding chefs to make at home. And food brand Rude Health is delivering weekly online workshops teaching people how to make classic lockdown essentials including Sauerkraut and nut milk.

It’s not only food brands who are making benevolent offerings to those stuck at home. Online language school Rosetta Stone is running free courses to students to help them perfect their skills whilst away from school, and mindfulness app Headspace is offering an increased number of free meditations to help ease the nerves of worried audiences across the country.

Never before have brands made such bold actions towards improving consumer wellbeing, and it’s lovely to see.

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rude health have launched cooking tutorials online. credit: rude health

To the heroes on the frontline

It’s great to help by alleviating boredom at home, but some brands are taking it one step further with acts of philanthropy for those who still have to work.

Numerous brands are offering discounts to hospital workers, including Asos, Pets at Home and Brompton Bike Hire, with others such as skincare brand Nursem providing 10,000 caregivers with free intensive hand cream to help soothe and repair. In London, food delivery app Deliveroo has incorporated a donation feature so that users can pay for meals for NHS workers, delivered free of charge by drivers.

Engineering giants including Dyson and Tesla have pivoted production and are repurposing factory facilities in order to produce much-needed ventilators. Fashion retailer H&M is using its vast network to supply personal protective equipment to hospitals in the EU. And disused spaces - such as 1Rebel fitness studios and Premier Inn hotels - have been offered to the NHS for use as extra bed space for patients.

Acts of kindness from brands, despite their own potential financial difficulties, indicate that this pandemic is changing brand behaviours for the better.

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1rebel have handed their keys over to the nhs. credit: 1rebel

To those who need shielding

More so than ever, we are seeing brands looking out for communities, particularly those who are vulnerable and need the support of others in order to stay safe.

Numerous supermarkets have introduced special shopping hours and priority delivery shops for those at risk. Our client, John Lewis & Partners, has injected £1m into a community fund distributed to those in need via Waitrose stores.

With business as usual halted, Yoox Net-a-Porter has handed its delivery vans over to Age UK and other charities to transport food and medical supplies to the elderly. Other brands, such as Victoria Beckham and US footwear retailer Aerosoles, are providing monetary support to food bank charities who are looking after the nation’s neediest during this time.

Brands hold huge sway in being able to influence and foster community. It’s heartwarming to see companies harnessing this power for good, and giving back to those who may feel alone and vulnerable.

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john lewis & partners have donated to community funds

To their hard-working staff

Giving back to communities and consumers is commendable, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of others. Luckily, employee wellbeing is being recognised and safeguarded by a range of brands who are all doing what they can to offer support to their staff.

Brands such as Pret and McDonalds have made the difficult decision to close their branches in order to protect their employees. Despite the financial implications, the fact that these companies have put their employee wellbeing first should be celebrated, and will surely be rewarded when loyal staff start to return once the world recovers.

Other companies with key workers are rewarding hard-working staff with bonuses - Marks & Spencers and Waitrose being among those to announce financial rewards. And with store closures across the world putting millions of jobs at risk, other brands such as Patagonia, Apple and Nike have sworn to protect their staff by continuing to pay their wages.

The way that a brand treats its people is noticed. Consumers will take note and remember those who had their employee’s best interests at heart.

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apple has closed its stores, but is maintaining full pay for hourly workers. credit: apple

It’s encouraging to see these brands push aside their purely commercial tendencies and instead focus on what their role should be and how they can help others. This community feel will hopefully continue to flourish long after this crisis is over, and the purpose-led behaviour we’re seeing now could lead to other meaningful changes for these companies across their total brand experience.

There are many more examples in addition to those listed above. Agile brands that have made a difference through helpful innovations will be recognised. A new web tool has already been created to spotlight the brands who gave back, and, perhaps wrongly, to shame those who didn't do enough.

The COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated consumer behaviours, and good deeds now will be remembered. Customers were already looking for brands they could align with that shared their values - this difficult period will prove which brands those are.

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