BITE Focus

Donations, production & social distancing: More brands step up to the coronavirus pandemic

In unprecedented times, brands are letting their actions speak for themselves.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE


Consumers vote with their wallets. How brands and businesses behave during these challenging times will be reflected in where they choose to invest their money. How brands react in times of crisis is critical to how their brand is perceived in the long term.  

If this is a war against an invisible enemy, as many governments keep reiterating, then collaborative efforts both within our industry and beyond, are key to winning the fight. This means recognising the role we each as individuals have to play in safeguarding each other, but also celebrating the moments that matter, the people performing extraordinary acts of everyday heroism. Vanity Fair Italia for example has replaced its usual plethora of celebrity cover stars with doctors, making its mission to rally the country around the hardest-hit citizens of Northern Italy. 

Advertising for good

We’ve also seen media companies step up to offer space, for free, to organisations promoting important, healthcare related messaging. BBC Global News have announced that it is replacing 20% of its advertising inventory with slots reserved for international and governmental organisations to communicated public health messaging around the coronavirus outbreak free of charge. Last week, 60 million people used BBC online services, up 50% on the weekly average; of that figure, around 80% were specifically consuming coronavirus coverage.

ITV also revisited its ‘Get Britain Talking’ campaign created by Uncommon Creative Studio with a special message that saw Ant and Dec remind viewers that there has perhaps been no greater time than now to pick up the phone, open the Houseparty app or just shoot someone a text. As the pair said, “We have never needed each other more so, come on Britain, get talking.” 

ITV’s message focuses on the importance of recognising the power of a human voice, of connecting with one another and reaching out, even while we’re all within our own four walls.

The out of home industry is also stepping up, donating inventory for public messaging; from Clear Channel running spots thanking the NHS, to a creative trio from Pablo creating impactful work to remind people to stay at home, which was picked up pro-bono by outdoor company London Lites, moving from creative idea to live execution in just 36 hours.

More than talk

As the crisis deepens around the world and the UK goes into official lockdown, brands and businesses are stepping up, donating services, switching up their production or emphasising the importance of social distancing. In one day, we’ve also seen more than 500,000 people around the UK respond to the government’s plea by signing up to volunteer for the NHS. In the second article in our series, we celebrate those companies choosing to offer positive solutions during this difficult time. 

Coca Cola.jpg

Coca-Cola, 'Staying apart is the best way to stay united'

Brands encouraging social distancing

The most important message that is busy being communicated around the world is the vital behavioural change that needs to happen immediately around social distancing. It is this act, and only this act, that will stem the tide of new cases and protect the most vulnerable members of our society. And many brands have echoed this message across their platforms.

Nike released an as-ever perfectly succinct message on social media: ‘Now more than ever, we are one team #playinside #playfortheworld’. The accompanying image read, ‘If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, Now is your chance.’ The campaign came from Wieden+Kennedy Portland, advising social distancing while also emphasising the importance of holding onto that sense of unified community. The campaign pitches the world as one team, all in it together. The brand has also pledged to spend more than £12.9million to support efforts to respond to the coronavirus crisis around the world.

Spanish magazine Libero has followed a similar stance with a campaign from David Madrid called ‘It’s Easier to Win at Home.’ The ads focus on the home-field advantage that football teams can have, using statistics around key players and teams to encourage Spaniards to stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak. The work is promoting free access to Libero’s online archive while live sport around the world is on hold.

Coca-Cola used their OOH ads in Times Square to advise customers to socially distance themselves; ‘Staying apart is the best way to stay united’, while Burger King crossed out its infamous Home of the Whopper sign replacing it simply with, ‘Stay Home’. Channel 4 are displaying a ‘Stay at Home’ on screen graphic across all its channels while St Lukes have created a social media message that flips the NHS logo around, encouraging people to SHN, ‘Stay Home Now’ accompanied by the copy, ‘Don’t send our NHS backwards.’

Scouts programme, The Great Indoors.jpg

Scouts, The Great Indoors

Doing it for the kids

Many people this week have had to take on extra workload, that of educating their children alongside their day jobs. This is an extraordinary feat, one that comes with the added bonus of little faces on video conferences and empathy stretching from company to company. And there are a number of brands, and individuals, who have recognised this need for compassion, providing resources for parents around the world. Including Amazon, which has cancelled the subscription of books and audio stories for children of all ages on Audible as long as schools are closed.

The fitness coach Joe Wicks, otherwise known as the Body Coach, announced earlier this week that he will be hosting morning PE sessions at 9am GMT for parents and their children, livestreamed online. His latest broadcast saw over a million laptops tuning in, with Wicks consistently demonstrating the importance of daily movement.

Similarly wanting to focus on the importance of daily activities and positively channelling kids’ energy, the Scouts have launched The Great Indoors, creating a resource of over 100 different activities for parents and children who are self-isolating. Each activity has a clear set of outcomes with the aim of supporting schools and educating kids at home.

Brixton Finishing School, which offers a free ten-week programme for 18-25-year-olds looking to get into the creative industries, have launched a virtual school to continue to provide skills through real-world advertising experiences for under-represented groups. It was a digital initiative that was due to be rolled out next year but that has been brought forward due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The school will recruit students through “online taster sessions”.

With some vulnerable children out of school, there is a worry many will be going without the food they would normally receive. Realising this, Heinz have pledged to give 12 million free breakfasts to school children in need by partnering with the charity Magic Breakfast. The scheme is aimed to support children who would otherwise be starting their day with a free meal in school. The 12 million figure equates to one breakfast, five days a week for eight weeks for all the children who would usually attend breakfast club schemes. 

allbirds, NHS.jpg

AllBirds pledge to donate shoes to NHS healthcare workers

Donation stations

The work that the NHS do on a day-to-day basis has always been admirable and inspirational but at no point has this rung more true than now. In the midst of a nationwide crisis, our healthcare workers have never needed more support, both as individuals and as an overall organisation. Some brands are stepping up to the task.

John Lewis & Partners are donating items like pillows, eye masks, phone chargers and hand cream as well as 50,000 Easter treats to hospitals. The online retailer has also stepped up by donating products and home comforts to staff facing extended shifts.

Elsewhere AllBirds are giving out free pairs of shoes to NHS healthcare workers and L’Occitane has sent hand cream to hospitals to “soothe your hard-working hands”. Unilever have also pledged €100million through the donation of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to organisations on the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus. While touring company Vans for Bands have volunteered to hand over their entire fleet of vehicles to be used as sleep and rest space for health workers on extended shifts.

The drinks conglomerate Diageo are donating eight million bottles of sanitiser for front line health workers by contributing up to two million litres of alcohol to manufacturing partners. Currently this is in operation across the UK and Republic of Ireland, Italy, USA, Brazil, Kenya, India and Australia.

Tech company Nvidia is highlighting the unique aid that gamers can give to the fight against the coronavirus by encouraging them to download the folding@home app. This allows gamers to lend spare computing power to support scientific research around the coronavirus. Gamers would share the power from their GPUs or graphic processing units which is enough to carry out massive computing tasks used in the research process such as simulating drugs and viruses.


Leon is turning its restaurants into mini supermarkets

Flexible offering

In the midst of the crisis many businesses have demonstrated a phenomenal ability to adapt quickly. From the prompt response by LVMH and BrewDog to producing hand sanitiser at their factories, to supermarkets changing the way they are both selling to and managing shoppers.

In the last week, we have seen supermarkets go one step further in shifting behaviour, with many introducing dedicated shopping hours for NHS staff including Asda, Morrisons, Tesco, Iceland and Sainsbury’s. Every Sunday, Tesco stores are giving over a priority browsing hour before checkouts open for NHS staff. As the supermarket giant explains, ‘Because now more than ever, Every Little Helps’.

Meanwhile Waitrose will set aside a proportion of hard-to-find items in store exclusively for NHS staff; healthcare workers will also be given priority checkout service. Stepping in to support larger supermarkets, Leon has pledged to turn their restaurants into mini supermarkets that sell grocery products and ready-made meals. The company is also currently working on a website that will enable online delivery.

Morrisons are also employing 500 charity shop staff from Marie Curie and CLIC Sargent to focus on helping the elderly and vulnerable with their shopping trips and at checkout. These members of staff will work the same hours with the same pay and conditions and will then return to the charity shops once their doors reopen.

Following a public plea from Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week revealing that the NHS doesn’t have enough ventilators to cope with the ever-growing crisis, Gtech, a vacuum cleaner manufacturer have turned their production to ventilators, both designing and testing their own with the aim to make 1,000 a day. A collaboration of business across aviation, car and medical equipment industries, including Airbus and McLaren is also aiming to produce 5,000 ventilators in the next two weeks. Dyson has also received an order from the government for 10,000 ventilators designed by the company.

Neil Clifford, Kurt Geiger.jpg

Kurt Geiger's CEO Neil Clifford has suspended his salary for a year

Helping businesses, and employees, survive

The worry now, for both business and individual alike is how we are going to navigate the crisis and come out stronger on the other side. Rising to this challenge, some businesses have chosen to send out reassuring messages of support and guidance during these uncertain times.

In a letter sent to tenants, Fullers revealed that it has cancelled all commercial rent as of this week for all tenanted pubs. The company wants to ensure businesses survive and “that you can emerge the other side of this without a worrisome burden of debt.” Their focus is on supporting their community through the crisis so that they can keep looking towards the future.

In a future facing move, Kurt Geiger CEO Neil Clifford has suspended his salary for a year, or until the stores reopen, demonstrating a degree of compassionate and forward-thinking leadership during these troubling times. His staff will also all receive full pay and have been encouraged to do volunteer work in the interim. 

How leaders, and businesses, behave during this crisis will define their reputations for years to come. Behaviour matters, particularly as today, what individuals and businesses do plays out in real time online. In times of crisis, those who step up will be remembered. And in the long run that’s what brands want. For their messaging to be the one that stands out; for their business to be the one that people turn to.