When we look back on 2020, the words that come to mind are likely all synonyms of “difficult.” But some incredible moments came out of the pandemic, too. Seen through this lens, 2020 was about resiliency, creativity, and making the best of a bad situation. Some brands, businesses and entrepreneurs gave us standout examples of humanity, humor and togetherness.
In many cases, the pandemic required brands to put technologies to new uses, and it was clear only after a few short weeks that crisis was breeding creativity.
Pivoting Can Pay Off
Brands have spent the past 15 months pivoting. From IRL (in real life) and virtual events to the rebirth of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), the digital world was explored in-depth. Many companies learned even more about consumers’ behaviors and built a lasting bond all through a screen. Global brands launched apps for the first time, and others invested in hybrid events to allow individuals front-row (and backstage) access to one-of-a-kind events.
For example, one of our clients, Carter’s (the children’s clothing brand) used new livestream video technology to host a sweepstakes — a virtual baby shower that gave away thousands of dollars in gifts to 100 deserving moms — and connect with its core demographic. The virtual event ended up being Carter’s biggest sweepstakes to date with more than 120,000 entries in two weeks.
Pivoting your business during a crisis is about taking risks, and after this past year, brands have no leverage in being risk-averse.
Leading With Purpose
Who would have thought at the beginning of 2020 that “buy local” marketing campaigns would become necessary to keep waves of restaurants and other businesses from closing? Knowing your brand’s why, or purpose, is no longer just a nice to have, it’s a need to have. Innovative products and viral entertainment are all important pieces to the pop culture puzzle, but these days it has to stand for something that moves our planet forward — through connection, inspiration, education, empowerment, self-discovery or human betterment.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks and celebrity Shark Tank investor, set a great example by pledging to reimburse any of his companies’ employees that patronized local restaurants and other businesses during the pandemic. “Anyone who buys from small local, independent (sorry big company owned chains), will get reimbursed for their lunch and coffee/teas. We will start with this week and go from there #buylocal #supportlocalBusiness #buysmall” he tweeted on March 14, just three days after the NBA suspended its season.
Investing in Music
Music is a universal language. It can drive emotion, which, in turn, can drive sales. Some of our very own clients have won Grammys because of their investment in music. (Yes, a brand-powered Grammy.)
Music experienced the best and worst of the pandemic. On one hand, companies such as Spotify benefitted from a shift away from AM/FM radio — people spent less time in their cars — in favor of music they could stream at home. Entrepreneurs crowded into the livestreaming business after virtual concerts became a necessity when artists needed to tour and music lovers had no live music options. And artists and songwriters, stranded at home while tours were suspended or cancelled, had more time to write and record more than ever.
The pandemic’s limitations and shift to a digital-first environment even inspired a new entertainment format — a webcast series started by producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz. Verzuz TV is a “virtual DJ battle” where two well-known artists go head to head. With the right product and marketing, fans will always follow. In fact, Verzuz became so popular it was acquired by Triller, a TikTok competitor, in March.
Capitalizing on Humor
Lightening the mood during a pandemic isn’t always the answer and can even strike the wrong tone. But when it’s done right, brands have the opportunity to win big.
For example, Match.com’s “Match Made in Hell” commercial depicts the Devil — an immense red hulk with horns — meeting an attractive young woman named “2020” through the dating service. As Devil and 2020 quickly fall for one another, they picnic in an empty football stadium, exercise on socially distanced treadmills, steal an armful of toilet paper from a restroom and pose for a selfie in front of a dumpster on fire. The commercial concludes with a perfect statement: “Make 2021 Your Year.”
Fortunately, 2021 appears to be a huge improvement from 2020, and consumers, businesses and media will return to the uncertainty of a “new normal.” But 2020 showed that brands could thrive during a crisis if they used the adversity to their advantage. Many of these campaigns may have never existed otherwise, because “business as usual” doesn’t work during a pandemic (or even post-pandemic).