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A new, new normal: brands need to be thoughtful about their reopening ad strategy

The Drum 21 May 2020 11:00
McDonald’s gained a huge amount of positive interest by promoting a new in-store model to help keep employees and customers safe

Retailers and restaurants are taking tentative steps to kickstart trading again as lockdown rules loosen around the globe. However, brands would do well to remember that cautious customers will be watching closely to see how they communicate that they’re back in business.

Home improvement stores like B&Q and Homebase were among the first major retailers to take steps to re-open in the UK early in May following on from their ‘essential’ classification from the government.

Eager to reach customers who are using their free time in lockdown to get familiar with their toolbox or green-fingered in their garden, these DIY brands have been investing in content marketing via email and social media to encourage customers to visit their local branch. Both Homebase and B&Q have stressed the importance of in-store mandatory social distancing measures to keep employees and customers safe in their communications.

Homebase and B&Q were seen [by consumers] to be operating a ‘safety first’ approach by remaining largely closed, despite having been designated as an essential service,” explains Alberto Lopez Valenzuela, Alva’s founder and chief executive.

It's a different story, however, for high street fast-food chains such as Gregg’s and airlines, like Southwest.

Though 70% of people reported a “neutral” sentiment towards the chain, a whopping 14% felt strongly negative about the sausage roll seller’s coronavirus action plan.

Thoughtful reopening

Now though, for many brands – not just retailers – the focus is shifting to striking the right tone as the world starts to slowly reopen and adjust to a new, new normal. Among them is Lexus, which debuted TV ads in the US last week that asked viewers the question of where their first trip outdoors would be to when lockdown eased.

“We understand that guests have been quarantining at home, and we wanted to create an inspiring and optimistic campaign inviting customers to imagine new journeys they will take – whether that's now or sometime in the future.”

McDonald’s is to open several UK drive-thrus imminently and has issued several emails to customers from the chief executive Chris Kempczinski explaining how it will do so safely. The result is that many people (89%) have no real feeling at all on the brand’s decision while 11% are positive. Crucially, though, 0% of people have negative sentiment towards the golden arches.

“This appears to be the model for great reopening announcements: doubling down on colleague and customer safety measures and including an element of innovation to help differentiate but also to reinforce the ‘safety at all costs’ message.”

Having pulled an unfortunately-timed ad back in March that celebrated the chicken shop’s ‘finger’ lickin’ good’ philosophy, the new work champions its fans’ attempts at making fried chicken at home and reassures viewers that “we’ll take it from here.“

Quite simply, the earlier announcements ran counter to the strong narrative of lockdown and self-isolation prevalent across the media at that time. The reopenings, however partial and well-intended, caught the public cold as question marks remained over the wisdom and appropriateness of the timing,” he says.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Stewart

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ValenzuelaAlvaAlberto Lopez ValenzuelaGreggs and airlinesGreggs
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