Pivot to pandemic: how advertisers are using (and abusing) the coronavirus to sell



Screenshot/peteevans.com

Kelly Choong, University of the Sunshine Coast

Pete Evans came under fire again last week for fobbing off a A$15,000 machine touted to treat multiple ailments, including coronavirus. The BioCharger NG, according to Evans’s website, is a “hybrid subtle energy revitalisation platform that works to optimise your health, wellness and athletic performance”.

He posted to his 231,000 Instagram followers the machine contains thousands of different “recipes” of light and sound, which can counteract viruses, including a couple of “recipes” against COVID-19. What are Evans’ credentials again, you ask? He’s a celebrity chef.

This promotional hoodwink is tapping into consumer fears and targeting the vulnerable and desperate.

Fear in society will always exist, and it is important for consumers to look at things from a logical and practical level. Brands are not here to promote solutions to the pandemic – this should be taken from official sources.

Shifting sales

Businesses have in the past shown their versatility and ingenuity in pivoting in innovative ways. There’s nothing wrong with trying to turn a disaster into an opportunity, as John D. Rockefeller once said. It all comes down to what opportunities exist and how you can take advantage of them.

Business models must constantly evolve, and many businesses have shifted their primary presence online to overcome current operational restrictions. But there is more to it than simply going online – it is also about understanding the new modified needs and wants of the market, and how you can provide to these needs while the opportunity exists.

Major brands such as Coca-Cola, Audi and McDonald’s have reinforced medical advice of social distancing through advertising. Guinness advertised unity and hope. Social responsibility in businesses has never been more important than it is now.

But as well as selling #stayhome messages, brands still need to sell their products – and some brands are doing well in the shift to home-based life.

Desks and monitors are selling out and toy sales for the kids have skyrocketed. Sex toy sales are up, too.

Sales of loose-fitting loungewear, leggings and stretchy pants have been soaring, with companies like Myer advertising pyjamas as “Your home office dress code” – a knowing wink to consumers who will be doing away with the formal office wear for the time being.

As the office has shifted to the home, what we consider acceptable (or comfortable) workwear has shifted, too.
Screenshot/Myers

Food delivery sales are also growing. Restaurants are selling consumers prepared food alongside make-it-yourself kits. Fast-food chains are advertising their cashless and contactless delivery ahead of advertising their food.

Red Rooster isn’t just selling chicken – it’s also selling safe delivery.
Red Rooster/Screenshot

Selling panic

When does tapping into coronavirus fears become ethically challenged?

Bupa tried to promote its health insurance alongside advice on the importance of being prepared. But using the image of an empty shelf (and the contentious issue of toilet paper) during the pandemic is taking advantage of fear. Paralleling shortages in essential products to health insurance policies is merely creating unnecessary panic-buying among those who don’t or can’t afford private insurance.

Whether or not you have private health insurance during the pandemic is irrelevant as doctors, not insurers, determine treatment.

Tapping into panic to sell at a time when everyone feels vulnerable is unconscionable. Especially when the company sells items of need that aren’t part of their regular inventory. Fashion brands under the Mosaic parent company have crossed that line with marketing for hand sanitisers. Not only is this opportunistic profiteering, a pre-order doesn’t guarantee customers will receive the items any time soon.

Brands like Katies are selling hand sanitiser for ‘pre-order’ – but when will consumers get their deliveries?
Screenshot/Katies

Online wine retailer Winetime.co.nz sneakily tried to pass off an advertisement that resembled the official New Zealand government’s public service announcement. The social media ad was accused of taking advantage of the COVID-19 branding to promote the retailer’s products.

Winetime.co.nz has been criticised for using advertising that looks like government health alerts.
New Zealand Government/Winetimes

‘We live in a society’

Brands’ key responsibility here is to keep supplying what consumers want in a moral, conscientious and transparent manner. And as much as it is important for businesses to stay afloat, it is also critical for consumers to not succumb to unethical and false advertising.

As frozen meat brand Steak-umm said eloquently via its Twitter account, “we live in a society so please make informed decisions to the best of your ability and don’t let anecdotes dictate your worldview”.

Beware of advertising that taps into current fears and uncertainty. Scrutinise claims. If in doubt, discuss with family and friends.

The days of “what you see is what you get” have passed. It is now time for us to change the way we look at advertising.The Conversation

Kelly Choong, Lecturer in Creative Advertising, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shoving a sock in it is not the answer. Have advertisers called time on Alan Jones?



More than 50 advertisers have so far withdrawn from Alan Jones’ 2GB radio show, buoyed by social media campaigns naming and shaming those who remain.
AAP/Paul Braven, CC BY-ND

Amanda Spry, RMIT University and Jessica Vredenburg, Auckland University of Technology

When Alan Jones encouraged Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “shove a sock down” the throat of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it was not the first time he launched a broadside and lost advertisers.

This time, 52 advertisers have so far withdrawn from Jones’ 2GB radio programme, buoyed by social media campaigns by activist groups publicising a list of boycotting advertisers as well as naming and shaming those who remain, such as Virgin Australia.




Read more:
It will be money, not morality, that finally turns the tide on Alan Jones


Messing with the wrong person

When asked about Jones’ comment on a television morning news programme, Ardern said she didn’t engage and does not intend to respond because she doesn’t “have an opinion on every single person who says something about me.”

Ardern has risen to worldwide recognition, particularly following her empathetic response to the terror attacks in Christchurch. Her fans have been quick to call out slurs on her character such as Jones’ comments, as well as any associated brands.

In today’s interconnected and increasingly more accessible world, brands are recognising the potential damage of not responding to an incident like this. Brands are actually responding strategically by capitalising on the press attention, visibly and loudly disassociating themselves from negative events or scandals.

It is not primarily about the money. Between at least seven of the boycotting brands, the money they put towards Jones’ 2GB radio show accounts for less than 1% of their media budget. But the long-term reputational and financial risk avoided by dissociating from Alan Jones is significant.

A toxic affiliation, even when that accounts for only a small piece of the marketing budget and media exposure pie, can have disastrous effects on a brand.

When brands partner

Like Jacinda Ardern, Alan Jones is a brand. People are aware of who he is and his name evokes certain associations (rightwing, shock jock). When companies choose to buy advertising space within his talk show, they are engaging in a brand partnership.

Once partnered, brands gain exposure to each other’s audiences and trigger the transfer of associations between brands (for example, George Clooney’s global status can be transferred to an instant coffee brand). But when one brand attracts bad publicity, it is not the only one that suffers damage to their image. All affiliated brands are at risk.

Tiger Woods lost US$22 million in endorsement and sponsorship contracts after his 2009 sex scandal. Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade dropped Tiger Woods, and the scandal cost shareholders of brands such as Nike and Gatorade US$12 billion. Similarly, Sandpapergate saw some major sponsors cutting ties with the Australian cricket team in 2018 for fear of the negative associations with cheating that accompanied the ball tampering incident.

Partnerships mean that the brands involved are not completely in charge of their narrative. People encounter brands in various ways and each encounter shapes perceptions, despite not being curated by the brand.

While boycotting advertisers such as ME Bank, Chemist Warehouse, Koala and Volkswagen knew that audiences would be exposed to their brand within Alan Jones’ radio show, they can’t control what else is happening at that time and what they are being linked to by virtue of association.

Turning a negative into a double positive

Advertisers have not only mitigated the spillover of misogynistic and violent connotations to their images, they’ve used this boycott as an opportunity to drive up brand sentiment. Walking away from Alan Jones not only firewalls them from his brand of outrage but signals their brand as principled, virtuous and willing to take a stand.

The incident has also highlighted the fact that these companies actually sponsored the show in the first place – a show which was known for its controversial viewpoints before this particular incident. Paradoxically, righting this wrong by boycotting could enhance satisfaction with these companies more than if they had never advertised with the programme in the first place.

This is particularly meaningful in a climate where consumers want to buy from brands that share their own values and act on social and political issues. Yet consumers discern between brands that back up their messages through practice. They’re looking for brands to “walk the talk”.




Read more:
Woke washing: what happens when marketing communications don’t match corporate practice


Credibility based on attractiveness, expertise and trustworthiness is key.

A recognisable brand is one of the most lucrative assets on a company’s books. The Apple brand, for example, is worth US$214 billion. Partnering with an entity with characteristics that boost a brand’s credibility will also increase brand equity, which captures the value of the brand name alone.

Brand equity starts with people’s knowledge of the brand – what comes to mind when they hear the name. By cutting ties with 2GB, the boycotting companies have made sure it’s not Alan Jones, sock-shoving and misogyny.The Conversation

Amanda Spry, Lecturer in Marketing, RMIT University and Jessica Vredenburg, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.