COVID-19: Brands that Thrived in Times of Chaos

There’s no doubt: we’re facing uncertain times with the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses are shutting down, people are staying home, and a recession appears to be on its way.

However, this isn’t the first time brands have faced chaos – and it won’t be the last. The coronavirus and state of the economy might send some companies running for the hills in panic, but others will buckle down and make the most of marketing tactics and sales during this crazy time.

To prove our point, here are a handful of brands that thrived during times of instability. Ever since the 1920s, and up into current times, companies have thrived in chaos – with the right approach.

Let’s discuss.

1929: Procter and Gamble During the Great Depression

When we think of the Great Depression, we think of out-of-business shops and general penny-pinching. Surprisingly, there was a brand that actually came out ahead of the competition after the devastation of the depression: Procter and Gamble.

Image Source: Lien Design

Instead of cutting down on advertising like so many of the brand’s competitors, Procter and Gamble decided to pursue new marketing avenues. Because it sells basics like soap, which people need even during economic turmoil, the company placed its bet on speaking directly to homemakers – and people staying at home during mass layoffs.

During the Great Depression, most advertisements were in print – but Procter and Gamble wanted to try something new. They sponsored a number of radio broadcasts geared towards families at home – and it worked! Proctor and Gamble came out of the Great Depression in a better state than before!

Believe it or not, this tactic by P&G actually dubbed the famous term we know today: Soap operas!

Key Takeaway: During a crisis that eats up much of consumers’ time, energy, and thoughts, it pays to strategically implement new kinds of advertisements. Find different ways to reach customers, especially if you have a product that they can really benefit from.

1940: Nestle During World War II

At the beginning of World War II, Nestle felt the negative impact just as much as many other businesses. Their profits dropped from $20 million in 1938 to $6 million a year later. In a case like this, you’d think the brand would make massive cuts and go into survival mode.

Image Source: History of Sorts

Instead, the brand adopted a new product: the Nescafe.

By 1943, this was considered a real staple for American servicemen who were serving in Europe and Asia during the war. Production rose, and before they knew it, the company had a big foot in the worldwide coffee trade, not just the world of candy.

By 1945, Nestle’s total sales jumped to $225 million. Talk about a comeback during a time of true chaos and economic turmoil.

Key Takeaway: Struggling to sell your current product? Take what you’re good at and use those skills to produce something new. Adapting is the key to , especially when times are tough.

1960: Automobiles During the Civil Rights Movement

When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, we mostly think of the social implications – riots, debates, calls for changes within political policies. However, the movement also caused a great deal of uncertainty when it came to businesses and the economy.

Image Source: Gray Flannel Suit

There was an industry that benefited immensely from the huge social movement: automobile makers.

As Jason Hartwig, education coordinator at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA, said, “One of the societal impacts was that the car allowed an escape from Jim Crow. It put the power back into the individual’s hands, so it was an important tool for empowerment.”

During bus strikes and public transportation boycotts, private taxi systems and car ownership began to climb. Additionally, the black middle class found a substantial amount of work in the mass production of automobiles.

Thanks to societal changes, and the automobile manufacturer’s willingness to serve as a sign of empowerment, automobile makers thrived during a time when other businesses were hunkering down.

Key Takeaway: What does your brand stand for? If you can take part in a positive social movement, people will recognize your brand for it and remember your company for the opportunities it provided.

1970: Virginia Slims During the Women’s Rights Movement

In a time when women were taking the stage and calling for change, one brand leaped on the change and marketed specifically to the “problematic” group. Virginia Slims launched the first cigarette that was specifically marketed to women, and for this company, it was a brilliant choice.

Image Source: Flashbak

These ads, featuring the slogan “You’ve come a long way,” made a real impact on the burgeoning women’s movement. By 1974, Virginia Slims was supported by $8.3 million in advertising sources, from magazines to newspapers.

Virginia Slims saw the women’s movement for the opportunity it was. In a period of American history where brands could have waited to see what happened, this brand grabbed used the movement to propel them into a place of power and profit.

Obviously, we now see the damage that can come with advertising harmful cigarettes, but there’s no downplaying the role that Virginia Slims played in the women’s movement back in the ‘70s.

Key Takeaway: Who is your brand empowering? Who can it influence most directly and support? Tap into the right audience and lend your product/services to them as a tool, not just a commodity.

2001: General Motors After the 9/11 Attacks

Arguably one of the most uncertain times in America’s history, the 9/11 attacks turned everything upside down for a while. Many brands were uncertain how to address the tragic event – they turned to silence rather than risk saying the wrong thing or coming across as insensitive.

On the other hand, General Motors didn’t hesitate. They released their “Keep American Rolling” campaign that was two-fold. First of all, it was extremely pro-American. It might not have openly addressed 9/11, but it included strong patriotic vibes and an emphasis on the resilience of the company.

Secondly, the ad offered zero-percent financing – a “kind” offer to those who had been dramatically impacted by the event. Families who were struggling financially could still afford a new car, thanks to General Motors.

By October 2001, U.S. auto sales broke a record – shocking considering the fact that the country was in a recession. Looks like General Motors had the right idea in ramping up advertising instead of slowing down.

Key Takeaway: Don’t slow down just because everyone else is. As long as you approach challenging times with optimism and sensitivity, marketing in the aftermath of a tragedy can be powerful.

2008: Groupon During the Recession

Although Groupon has become a household name for most of us, this brand wasn’t always around. In fact, it debuted during a surprisingly controversial time – in the midst of the economic recession of 2008.

Image Source: Investopedia

Groupon played off the bet that most people were looking for ways to save money on restaurants, entertainment, and more during the recession. And the brand was right – in about two years, the website had spread to 300 markets across 35 countries.

Because Groupon was able to meet a significant need amongst members of the public, it was able to thrive during a time when other brands struggled to entice buyers.

Key Takeaway: Ask yourself, what do people need? What are they looking for? Groupon saw an opportunity to provide customers with access to things they couldn’t commonly afford – and the brand thrived as a result.

2009: Lego During an Economic Downturn

As the recession of 2008 turned into an economic downturn in 2009, many Americans were tightening their belts. Now was the time to spend money on essentials and minimize excess spending as much as possible.

Image Source: The Guardian

However, the brand Lego was able to prove something interesting: even during times of economic struggle, toys are still a popular buy. Lego’s sales actually rose sharply this year as the brand advertised the enduring appeal and multiple uses of the toys.

Why? If you ask the brand, it’s because they marketed quality in a time when people’s dollars were stretched pretty thin. Marko Illincic, the managing director of Lego UK, said, “The continued strong growth in our classic product lines is particularly encouraging and suggests a demand among consumers for trusted quality, particularly in the current economic climate.”

Lego thrived especially well in Europe, but also in America. Their pre-tax profits rose by 65 percent and beat many other brands out, such as Mattel. People know this brand and its reputation for high-quality, durable toys, and that’s what carried it through the recession.

Key Takeaway: It’s a timeless tale of quality over quantity. Lego had been around for decades by 2009, and yet its ability to produce long-lasting toys helped it come out on the other side of a recession.

2016: YMCA During the Presidential Election

Almost everyone in America was feeling the anxiety and economic turmoil of the impending presidential election in the early parts of 2016. The candidates of the year were extremely controversial, leading to intense discussion, arguments, and financial concerns.

Image Source: YouTube

Instead of pretending everything was fine, like many brands did, the YMCA took an interesting marketing approach during the chaos. They announced that they were a safe place for kids to play on Election Day, November 8, 2016. Additionally, it pointed out that there was something more important to think about than just politics: the future of our children.

Although there are fancier gyms with arguably better benefits, the Y has continued to thrive due to its emphasis on social responsibility and youth development. The brand has held tight to these concepts, and their dedication has taken them far in times of strife.

Key Takeaway: When times are uncertain, dig into the morals your brand is proud to stand by. Share empowering messages and positivity with those who need to be reminded that this too shall pass.

2016: Aldi and Lidl During Brexit

Brexit, the nickname for Britain’s “exit” from the EU, seriously damaged some of the UK’s economic growth. The uncertainty of the giant change slowed the country’s growth from 2.4 percent in 2015 to 1.5 percent by 2018.

Image Source: MarketWatch

Still, there was one trusted brand that rode the waves of Brexit exceptionally well: Aldi. The German supermarket chain bucked the trend by opening more than 100 stores in the UK rather than closing like many other brands. It’s estimated that the brand will create a total of 5,000 jobs in the future.

How is Aldi doing so well? It’s namely because they’re absorbing the rise in food prices and inflations. They already have the leanest supply chain in retail and very budget-friendly prices – this strategy is playing out very well for them in a time when budgets are tight.

Additionally, the brand has stated that it is “not and never [has] been focused on short-term profits.” According to Aldi UK and Ireland CEO Giles Hurley, the company’s focus “is on growth; it’s on sales, stores and customer numbers.”

Key Takeaway: Business isn’t all about immediate profit. Sometimes, planning for growth and long-term development is the better way to go, even during a chaotic political and social time.

2017: Patagonia During the Craziness of a New Presidential Term

Once President Donald Trump was elected in America, many people (and brands) felt extremely uncertain about where they stood and what future they would face, economically and socially. It was a time of real chaos for a large chunk of the country, and some thrived while others hunkered down.

Image Source: Adventure Journal

A great example of a brand who took a stance and benefited comes from Patagonia. It was a big year for activism, and the outdoor clothing retailer tapped into that, demanding positive change. The brand aimed to “double down on [their] activism,” and it turns out that was the right move.

When Patagonia Action Works was launched, 720 grant organizations and many of the brand’s customers came together to solicit donations, talk about big causes, and find more volunteers to protect America’s wild. The brand learned to embody activism during a time of uncertainty, and it generated millions of dollars in revenue and donations.

Key Takeaway: Activisim, especially on behalf of environmental change and protection, can be a huge tool for brands during chaos. Help your followers remember what matters by marketing around important subjects.

Today: TikTok During International Lockdowns

Finally, it’s time to talk about the chaos we’re all currently facing: the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. This pandemic has sent our economy plunging into a recession, and many people are out of work, either temporarily or permanently. Millions of others are stuck at home – bored and looking for entertainment.

Image Source: TikTok

With social distancing keeping us from meeting up wtih friends and socializing, TikTok has made an astounding leap in popularity. Although it’s been around for years, the past few weeks have witnessed huge sparks of creativity when it comes to the video platform.

Although the brand isn’t openly marketing around coronavirus, it does point out that it can “make people’s day” with access to real people, real videos. It might not be just like socializing, but the brand is keeping loneliness at bay and providing hours of entertainment, both for content creators and the viewers.

Key Takeaway: Brands need to give the people what they need – and sometimes, that’s just a touch of humor mixed with some absurdity and crazy music during a pandemic.

Today: Zoom During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Millions of Americans, and people around the globe, have been sent to work remotely to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That means millions of people are adapting to online work strategies and conference calls – leading to a huge increase in the use of video conferencing technology.

Image Source: Zoom

Zoom has taken an excellent approach when it comes to this transition. It boasts its ability to keep everyone connected, even with quarantine measures and lockdowns in place. In a  time where so many lives have been disrupted, Zoom puts a positive spin on the whole thing, advocating that it has the resources to keep us afloat.

Unsurprisingly, Zoom’s shares have more than doubled since January. This brand is doing exceedingly well in a time when circumstances have forced people to work from home, and their positive approach certainly isn’t doing them harm.

Key Takeaway: If your brand can be the crutch that helps consumers through a rough patch, you’ll come out on the other side of chaos looking stronger than ever.

In Conclusion

As you can see, this isn’t the first time brands are facing extreme chaos, and it won’t be the last. As companies learn to adapt to the COVID-19 induced changes within their countries, they will find new opportunities to thrive, even when the economy is suffering greatly.

What is your brand doing to survive this crazy time? Are you adopting new marketing strategies, introducing new products, or making other big changes? For all you know, your brand could wind up listed amongst these greats that made the most of economic downturns.

About Riley

Riley Heruska is a full-time writer at a E2M Solutions specializing in producing content in the realm of SEO, marketing, and features. Her passion lies in helping others through the use of written word, and she can often be found sharing her travels from around the world.