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Should you stay true to your brand in a crisis?

Yes, you should. Most of the time.  

There are all sorts of benefits to being consistent. Which is why it’s weird that so many brands build the F-word – flex – into their guidelines. More on why that’s a terrible idea in this rant blog.Broadly, our advice on flex is: assume you don’t need to do it, and wait until the world proves you wrong.

Enter coronavirus. If you sell trainers, or chocolate, or cars, how on earth do you get noticed when everybody’s head has been turned by the great big infectious elephant in the room? And should you even try?

Well, it all comes down to two things:

  1. How relevant your content is
  2. How appropriate your tone is

If you’re Dove, this is a slam dunk. Hygiene is hot right now, and their confident, we’re-all-in-this-together tone of voice couldn’t be more appropriate. Hence the love for their ‘Courage is beautiful’ campaign.

If you’re Wowcher, on the other hand, and you’ve just polluted my inbox with an email about a sale on face masks and the line ‘It’s time to face today’s deal’, sure, your content is relevant, but your tone is totes inappropes. (See?)

And if you’re Mercedes, and you’ve decided now’s a good time to wedge some sales copy into a tweet about social distancing, your tone’s okay, but your content is so irrelevant that the backlash was inevitable.

So what can you do?

If you’re not lucky enough to be naturally relevant right now, you’ve got two choices. You can shut up, or switch up.

We’re not being glib here. Shutting up takes guts, and for many brands it’s absolutely the right thing too. Why annoy people with irrelevant clutter, particularly at a time when everybody’s outrage-o-meter is set to max?

Switching up, on the other hand, takes a creative spark. I love Nike’s ‘Play for the world’ campaign because it’s so seamless. It feels like something they’d ordinarily do. Which is impressive, because it absolutely isn’t. You wear Nike outside or in the gym, not at home.

Then there’s Brewdog. They’ve ‘pivoted’ (🤢) spectacularly, going from a beer brand with an aggressive, irreverent, uncompromising tone of voice to a hand sanitiser brand with a warm and cuddly tone of voice. They realised their content was irrelevant and their tone was inappropriate, so they switched up both. The result? A load of PR, but also a load of cynics who think it’s all just a shameless stunt to garner positive press.

So if you’re thinking of following suit, here’s a piece of advice: tell people about the good stuff you’re doing, but only tell them once. Otherwise, according to this piece of research, you run the risk that people will perceive you as even less altruistic than if you’d taken the easy way out, and just shut up.