Marketing and the coronavirus: doing the right thing

Ammo Somal

Ammo Somal

Ammo is an engaging writer, researcher, and communicator, with a penchant for humor. Back in the UK, he worked in communications and creative for everything from insurance companies to video game festivals. Ammo’s skills as a content/multimedia coordinator have been honed through creating and managing content and planning multiple editorial ventures.

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In light of recent the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we here at Phlywheel felt it inappropriate to publish our usual content and style of roundup this week. 

It’s been interesting to see how other businesses have handled the pandemic so far. Some have been tactful & caring, exercising caution, canceling major public events, taking extra care to sanitize spaces and allowing employees to work from home. Others are capitalizing on fear to sell products — with some pretty cringe-worthy results. So: how should brands handle their messaging during a global pandemic? 

No smarmy quips from yours truly today. No funny GIFs. Just some useful information. With that in mind, here are some lessons we’ve learned so far, as well as resources about staying informed and safe.

A close-to-home faux-pas

Taking advantage of a health crisis to promote your business? Yeah, that’s a no-no.

Some food delivery and ordering platforms have been sending an increased number of push messages along the lines of, “Use offer code #COVID19 and get 10% off your next order!” 

A member of our own team received the following promotional email from Ritual, a lunch-ordering app that is very popular at our office:

Now, we understand (though don’t necessarily applaud) a hand sanitizer company or food delivery service feeling compelled to market themselves during the coronavirus. But remember, Ritual is a food-ordering app, not a delivery app. You have to leave your house and physically go to a restaurant and pick up your foodthat’s how it works. How does ordering from Ritual help prevent the spread of coronavirus or treat the sick? It doesn’t. Not only was the intention wrong, but it was also…just plain wrong. (As if we need more misinformation around coronavirus. More on that later). 

After backlash on social media, they offered the following contrite apology:

Brands can avoid having to send that embarrassing second email by just not sending that first one. Think a “coronavirus promo” sounds like a great idea? Really think about it first. 

There are exceptions. What if your product or service can genuinely help people during this crisis? It only works if you prioritize people over profits. For example, if you’re a grocery home delivery service, you could offer free service (with added sanitary precautions), to the elderly. But if you’re just trying to make a quick buck, consider yourself warned: The public does not take kindly to callous brands, and will make quick work out of you on social media. 

Don’t set and forget

We’ve talked about automation before. While the technology is useful, we advise clients and brands not to rely on it, and to practice caution and common sense. Hey, we’ve made no secret of the fact that we’ve found CoSchedule to be pretty handy at times. But as part of my publishing process, I have a reminder set in my calendar every day to check the following day’s social posts for any issues. This includes copy errors and checking to see if the content comes across in a different light due to current events. Our editors also go over the CoSchedule posts before they go live, too, so there’s an extra pair of eyes on them. 

This doesn’t just apply to social media. I suspect automation was to blame for this e-mail entering my inbox yesterday morning:

Erm, I doubt anybody is thinking about hosting an event right now, given that major events across the world are being canceled. I hope this was pre-written, pre-scheduled and forgotten. Otherwise, that means someone actually decided this email was a good idea, despite what’s going on, (which is worse, I think)? Anyway, when it comes to automation—or ANY of your messages, really, whether that’s it’s a press release or a Facebook post—check, double-check, then check again.

Check your sources

In the era of fake news, it’s more important than ever to educate yourself, rather than believing everything you read. Knowledgeable and cautious beats panicky and misinformed, every time.

Earlier today, my cousin forwarded a WhatsApp message to our group chat about a coronavirus test, apparently from a Taiwanese doctor that involved holding your breath for periods of time. As an asthmatic, I was understandably worried but skeptical. Instead of forwarding this further, I went to Snopes and checked it out. It turned out to be completely false.

Your best source for information for incidents like this is the WHO (World Health Organization), that gives the following tips on minimizing your risk of catching the virus:

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with soap and water.
  • Maintain distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene.
    • Covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately
  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
  • Keep up to date on the latest COVID-19 hotspots (cities or local areas where COVID-19 is spreading widely). 
  • If possible, avoid traveling to places – especially if you are an older person or have diabetes, heart or lung disease.

On top of finding more detail on the above tips in the Q&A, you’ll also be able to find reassuring information such as global research taking place, advice for the public, and travel advice

We also highly recommend following coverage from The New York Times. They provide factual, live updates on the outbreak. They’ve also removed all coronavirus-related news from behind their paywall, so everyone can be better informed. See, The Times gets it. 

I hope you’ve found this update helpful, insightful, and reassuring. Because right now, that’s the best thing to be. Stay tuned for more Phly news and most importantly, stay safe.

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