Brand Storytelling in Times of Crisis: Three Marketing Don’ts

an illustration of people wearing medical masks
By Pace Editor |

During uncertain times it is important to continue talking to your audience, but brands must use caution and consider audience needs.

Marketing can seem like an odd thing to worry about right now. We’re in a global pandemic that has people sequestered in their homes, fearful about the future and trying to get used to this new reality. While health may be the first thing on everyone’s mind, the economy isn’t far behind. According to a recent Ipsos poll, most Americans see this pandemic first as a health crisis, then an economic one. And with that heightened anxiety comes added pressure for brands to engage with their audience appropriately and effectively.

During times of crisis, it’s vital that you stay true to your brand values. As brands attempt to continue marketing during this sensitive time, many are missing the mark or even damaging their reputation with their messaging.

Don’t let your brand become a cautionary tale when times get tough. Here are three tips to ensure you stay true to your message without rubbing your customers the wrong way during times of crisis.


Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen brands struggle with their messaging as a result of not taking the time to assess the emotional needs of their audience and understanding what consumers expect from them. As a result, many brands are being dragged through the mud for being tone-deaf and opportunistic.

You can see this in the logo redesign shared by McDonald’s Brazil. Audiences saw this simple tweak as gimmicky and as an opportunistic way to communicate that the restaurant was still open and willing to take your money. This campaign was in no way tied to brand values and resulted in the company removing all traces of it and issuing an apology. It demonstrates that while a logo redesign might be creative, it means nothing to consumers who are looking for messages of comfort and leadership.

During a crisis, it’s important to know what the audience expects from your brand. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Customers aren’t looking to candy bar companies for reassurance during a medical emergency, and that’s OK. But it doesn’t mean you can say nothing.


One way some brands have avoided the risk of seeming insensitive is by staying silent. But we know that brands rarely benefit from going dark during times of uncertainty. According to Kantar Insights Division Global Head of Media Jane Ostler, “Brand health becomes vulnerable when companies stop advertising. If they do this for longer than six months it destroys both short- and long-term health.”

This crisis has fundamentally changed the way that Americans assess their sense of safety and has caused significant social and behavioral changes. As consumers’ habits and buying behaviors evolve, brands who say nothing are no longer part of the conversation and therefore risk losing once-loyal customers. According to the recent Kantar COVID-19 Barometer report, only 8% of respondents believe that brands should stop all advertising efforts, with 77% saying they want to hear how brands are being helpful and bringing value to life as it is now.

Consider an appropriate story for your brand to tell during this time. Maybe your brand can offer expert advice on disinfecting the home, inspirational messaging about staying connected or a simple reminder to enjoy the little things. Don’t try to join a conversation where your brand doesn’t belong but don’t stay silent, either. Figure out how your brand can add value to the lives of your audience and tell them about it.


When the world is going through a difficult situation, sometimes a little joy goes a long way. Finding ways to inspire your audience in tough times can forge a powerful bond between your brand and your audience. A great example of brand storytelling that uplifts the audience while being true to their values is Apple’s latest campaign, “Creativity goes on.” It tells the story of how everyday people and celebrities alike use Apple products to create and thrive in our current environment. This, paired with the fact that the brand is making significant financial contributions to pandemic relief efforts, builds upon the brand attachment that already exists within their target audience.


Soon, consumers are going to emerge from their homes and will be eager to establish a new normal. Brands that entered this crisis without a firm sense of a brand story or values will likely see a negative impact for years as a result of stumbles made in their messaging. Brands that went silent during this time will no longer be part of the conversation as their customers may have felt abandoned when they were searching for support. While now is not the time to be sales-focused, the survival of a brand will depend on its ability to show that it can provide value and has a part to play in navigating this new normal. So now is the time to ask, what’s your story?

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