No brand can sit this out or opt to ‘wait and see’

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No brand can sit this out or opt to ‘wait and see’

World Federation of Advertisers CEO Stephan Loerke on why 79% of brands are actively responding to the corona crisis and why now it’s time for ‘brand purpose on steroids’. By LBB’s Laura Swinton


“It’s moved so fast, at lightening speeds. We’ve been in lockdown for the past three weeks but a bit more than a month ago people weren’t even forecasting the lockdown so things have changed so incredibly fast. Many brand owners were caught off guard,” says Stephan Loerke, CEO of the World Federation of Advertisers.

It’s been a dizzying month or so for marketers, as they’ve spun, swerved and pivoted to make sense of the new Covid-19 reality – and while they could be forgiven for having a rabbit-in-the-headlights moment, many brands have been swift in their response, according to findings from the WFA.

Their member survey has found that although 81% of marketers at major multinationals have opted to defer their already-planned campaigns, 79% are also creating new messages that respond to the enormous impact of the crisis on the public. The WFA has also been bringing together case studies and examples of brands navigating the challenges well, on their ‘Covid Compendium‘, hosted on their website.

These findings bear out what WFA CEO Stephan Loerke has been observing anecdotally. “What I was seeing before was that brands are taking rapid action, so in that sense I wasn’t surprised,” he says. “Brands have been extremely fast at adjusting to an environment which has totally changed. Brands need to be cognoscente of that and sensitive to that. I think no brand can sit this out or go for wait and see – there’s a sense of urgency to act.”

This proactive attitude has been driven by several factors. On the tech front, video conferencing and the availability of creative tools and devices mean it’s easier than ever to get work done. But on a human level, this crisis has a deeply emotional dimension that means that people who work for brands feel a need to somehow contribute.

“Things have changed compared to the financial meltdown in 2008-9, because then brands just cut the budget,” reflects Stephan. “In this case here, brands are pivoting rather than just walking away. Many of them see an obligation and a need to be present in this environment – it’s a different kind of presence and that’s what I find particularly encouraging and exciting.”

“I do think that it’s a going to be a catalyst for change. Because there’s much more at stake than the stock market. When I think of this crisis, I’m thinking of my mum, you know? And my neighbours.”

Studies by Edelman and McCann have found that the public is placing greater trust in and expectations on brands and NGOs than they are on governments to take a lead during the crisis.

And, after many years of the brand purpose debate, companies are suddenly being put to the test and are having to walk the walk. “There has been some long term conversation in the industry: is this hype? Is it real? What is greenwashing and what is genuine? Here, in the case the corona-crisis, the sentiment around this is multiplied by a thousand because it’s about public health, it’s about people’s lives , it’s about making society resilient. There can’t be a shadow of a doubt about why the brand is doing it,” says Stephan. “I find that many brands I’ve seen seem to be getting it and I find that very encouraging.”

While some brands like LVMH have come out in understated fashion to pledge their resources to the fight by producing hand sanitiser and giving it to the French authorities, other brands have been pulled up sharp by the public, who have spotted a disconnect between their messaging and their treatment of employees.

“It’s brand purpose on steroids,” says Stephan. “I’m a believer that brand purpose starts with the way a company treat its people. This is the context. How does a brand treat its people? How does it treat its partners and agencies? People expect a brand to behave in a consistent fashion.”

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