kid failing test

SSU GRADES: Brand Responses to Coronavirus for the Week of April 12

April 17, 2020

[Editor’s Note: The SSU staff encounters many examples of brand communications. Each Friday we compile an assessment of some of the best and not-so-great examples. Our intent is to provide a learning experience about what works or doesn’t. You can find last week’s examples here.]

Sophie Maerowitz, senior content manager

Draper James’ Disastrous Giveaway: C

Entertainer Reese Witherspoon’s fashion imprint Draper James announced a well-intentioned social media contest offering free dresses to schoolteachers stuck at home, but botched the execution. The label’s marketing team expected “single-digit thousands” of entrants, but underestimated Witherspoon’s viral appeal—and the entries were closer to a million. Only 250 teachers received dresses, with the rest added to the company’s mailing list and offered a discount on dresses that most of them could not afford.

The takeaway? Be realistic about your social media reach when running a contest, particularly if you have a tendency to land placements on “TODAY” and “Good Morning America.” Do not conflate social good efforts with lead generation, and if you do add competition entrants to your email list, give it some time before sending out special offers. Today’s audiences are hyper-sensitive to opportunistic messaging. At least Witherspoon responded within a day of the PR crisis, donating to southern educators via DonorsChoose. Still, she did not disclose the amount in another instance of under-communicated philanthropy.

Mark Renfree, event content manager

Michael Che: A

After his grandmother died of the coronavirus, Saturday Night Live regular Michael Che said this week that he will pay one month’s rent for the 160 apartments in the public housing complex his grandmother lived in. Che announced it on Instagram, and said that he’s making the payments in memory of his late grandmother. In the announcement, he said, “I know that’s just a drop in the bucket” and called on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and hip hop mogul Sean Combs to “fix this” and called for a plan for debt forgiveness for the city’s residents living in public housing.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Michael Che (@chethinks) on

Seth Arenstein, editor

Uber’s Stay Home for Everyone Who Can’t: A recumbent A-

Few companies urge consumers NOT to use their products and services. Early in this virus moment, Tito’s Handmade Vodka came close, cleverly urging people not to use its vodka to make hand sanitizer (CDC recommends sanitizer contain 60 percent alcohol, Tito’s brew is just 40 percent). Tito’s cemented its rep, though, producing hand sanitizer and donating it to those in need. Uber, though, is purposely urging people not to call for rides.

In a 75-second PSA from Wieden + Kennedy and production house Prettybird, the brand shows consumer-generated footage of quarantined people, with soft piano music accompaniment. Stay at home and have fun is the message. Well, yes, since the majority of the footage depicts what looks to be well-off, happy people eating, drinking, doing yoga etc. There are only a few brooding faces. Perhaps they’re worried about unemployment, how to pay the rent or the health risks of Uber drivers and cars. The racial diversity quotient could be higher too. Still, Uber is tapping into the zeitgeist and forgoing sales. Excellent. It’s also donating rides to health care workers.

Nicole Schuman, reporter/content manager

Johnson & Johnson: B-

Johnson & Johnson released a web series titled “The Road to a Vaccine” to highlight its efforts to produce a vaccine for the COVID-19 crisis. Hosted by CNN correspondent Lisa Ling, the show provides viewers a behind-the-scenes look on how vaccines are made, providing informative interviews with researchers, scientists and other medical personnel working to make this a reality. The series broadcasts Tuesdays live at noon ET on JNJ.comFacebookLinkedIn or Twitter.

While the world waits for a vaccine, this may seem like a thoughtful creation on behalf of a company, and it does provide insight that many are looking for. However, many companies are working on a cure for coronavirus right now, and the series seems a play to elevate J&J from the rest of the pack. It initiates something of an icky feeling for a country who is trying to come together instead of be marketed to. On the other hand, the creativity in the delivery of the episodes online and on social media platforms is genius, and has provided J&J with engagement from many concerned citizens around the country.

At The Social Shake-Up