Pandemic Pivot

The Top 5 Advertising-in-a-Pandemic Pivots

With the aggressive spread of COVID-19, brands the world over found themselves facing an unprecedented question: how do you adapt your marketing strategy to a global pandemic? Without a blueprint of any kind to guide them, businesses who have pivoted successfully have done so by placing the customer’s needs at the heart of every decision. “What do our customers need right now?” and “How can we make their lives better?” are the two questions smart brands are asking themselves. 

Here are five of our top favorite pivots (plus one to grow on).

#5: Madewell

Not everyone needs (or can afford) to buy new clothes right now, but we could all use a little more self-care. Madewell recognized this and adapted their emails to include more than just products and promotions. From skincare masks you can DIY at home to playlists that give you a mental vacation, Madewell tried to offer customers a respite from stress in the form of (free) ways to look after yourself. This kind of added value invites goodwill and keeps customers loyal.

#4: Girlboss

In mid-April, Girlboss, an online community of professional millennial women, launched a new content series focused on all things lockdown. The Girlboss Guide to Now included five days of tips, resources and support for community members coping with a variety of COVID-related challenges. They shared videos, Q+A and other content about topics like pivoting to a new career and tightening up finances, doing their best to inspire their followers during uncertain times.

#3: Lunya

Luxe pajama maker Lunya used the idea of being at home—their forte, of course—as a jumping off point to peek into their own homes. They got real about lockdown in blog posts about their employees’ quarantine life and sought to lift up their audience with #sharealittlehope, where each use of the hashtag triggered a donation to COVID-related job retraining. Between fancy pajamas and a hashtag of feel-good posts, we couldn’t help but feel a little better.

#2: Visa

Poised to launch a massive campaign ahead of the summer Olympics, Visa hit pause and instead rolled out  “Do Your Part Like an Olympian,” a series of social media videos that show Olympic athletes adapting to lockdown by working out at home—and using hand sanitizer. Using a tactic many would eventually follow, the athletes did the filming themselves on their phones. 

#1: Apple

A master class in how to showcase features and benefits without being sales-y, Apple addressed the many challenges of WFH with humor and compassion in The whole working from home thing. Picking up where last year’s The Underdogs left off, they reflected back to us what it’s really like to collaborate at a distance. The narrative is both entertaining and authentic, and it shows off Apple’s entire ecosystem of products beautifully—and leaves viewers hoping for a third installment. 

Bonus: Chipotle

At Hunt, Gather, we hustled to help long-time client Chipotle roll out a number of customer-centric programs, starting with Delivery Kitchen. To address early concerns about the safety of takeout and delivery, they created a kitchen-within-a-kitchen solely dedicated to to-go orders, with extra protective measures. In July, we supported the launch of Farmers Market where consumers can buy direct from Chipotle farmers. Customers get access to sustainably-raised food, farmers get access to new customers and Chipotle gets to live and breathe its commitment to sustainability and transparency in new ways, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

A New Reality

For more than two months, most of us have been social distancing, far from friends, co-workers and even family, in an attempt to squash the spread of novel coronavirus. Though most states have begun to reopen, experts warn we may be in for social distancing measures on and off through 2021. As we all try to reimagine what that kind of life might look like, here’s our take on what will matter to consumers in the months ahead, and how brands can prepare.


Trust and transparency

While some folks are ready to embrace the post-social distancing era, many will reemerge cautiously, keeping their circle of trust small as they wait to see how relaxed measures affect contagion levels. Customers will be paying close attention to how vigilant brick and mortars are about cleanliness and safety measures. Though Texas restaurants and some retailers were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity as of May 11, Austin businesses like the Peached Tortilla and milk + honey spa opted to open on their own schedule once they could develop their own health and safety guidelines. Businesses who are transparent and enjoy a history of customer trust will have a leg up.


A healthy lifestyle

Until there’s a vaccine, COVID-19 will remain a threat, and preventative measures to preserve health and boost immunity are fast becoming a priority. Supplement makers like HumanN have reported spikes in sales of immunity strengthening-products including vitamin C and elderberry extract. With people eating at home as much as 50% more often, sales of organic produce went up 22% in March alone (compared with 1.8% in January and February). At-home gardening and chicken farming are both on the rise, too, with egg wholesalers reporting a rise of up to 600% in purchases. Click and Grow, who sells smart indoor gardens, is selling out as soon as they restock. Health and wellness brands stand to benefit here, as do businesses who can pivot their products in this direction.  


Save or splurge?

With so many job losses (and the threat of more looming), consumers have seriously curtailed spending. Out of necessity or uncertainty, many will remain frugal, cutting out whole categories of expenses (mani-pedis, for instance) and depending more on value brands like grocery store generics. At the same time, people are desperate for comfort and finding it in relatively inexpensive things like alcohol and sugar: purchases of beer, wine, ice cream and cookies all boomed in late March. As the economy reopens, those who can afford to will be primed to splurge, but the tension between spending and saving will remain. What was once considered a necessity has now become an indulgence, with hair cuts currently topping both lists. Be prepared for less expensive treats to outsell splashy purchases for a while yet.


Connection, connection, connection

Socializing has never been as strictly curtailed as it has been lately. In the absence of safe opportunities to gather in small groups of friends, large groups of strangers or virtually anything in between, maintaining virtual connections has become more critical than ever. Individuals report bumps in screen time that range from 33%–185%. In Italy, Facebook Messenger calls with three or more people increased by more than 1,000% in March and both Instagram and TikTok reported a 25% increase in engagement in the same month. So did Zoom, who rocketed to the top of Apple’s App Store downloads, breaking previous records. Finding ways to create connections between people, such as with a Facebook Live Q+A or demo or a TikTok challenge, is where brands need to be. Chipotle launched Chipotle Together, a series of virtual lunches with celebrities that allow fans to connect over a shared experience. It’s the same reason why we put together the Social Distancing Channel: to help folks find free online content like concerts and classes. 


Less celebrity, more real

Watching Oprah cook and drink wine can make us feel like we’re all in this together, but the lockdown has also underscored the vast chasm between the well-to-do and the rest of us—for example, the Twitter backlash inspired by videos of JLo and A-Rod qurantining inside his posh Miami compound. On the other hand, celebs like soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who is holed up with partner Sue Bird in her Connecticut apartment, is broadcasting content like The Wine Down on Instagram Live to entertain people (including themselves) and raise money for Hunger: Not Impossible. Now is not the time to partner with out-of-reach celebrities, but to focus on celebs, micro-influencers and social media stars who we can relate to as real people. 


A social conscience 

If ever we needed local companies to step up and meet the needs of our communities, now is it. Local restaurant and butcher Salt & Thyme has reinvented itself as a pop-up grocery store. Democratic candidate Julie Oliver has reached out to folks here in District 25 to offer support in the form of food delivery or errand-running. Chipotle gave their employees a 10% raise and more paid sick leave, and donated 200,000 burritos to healthcare workers on the frontlines. Offering free value-added educational content is another form of community giving; think of the many salons and stylists doing online tutorials so customers can DIY. Those companies, too, are poised to reap the rewards of customer loyalty whenever business gets back on track. The kind of behavior that has been considered nice-to-have in the past will become the default by which companies big and small are judged.


Advertising 101

A quick recap of the basics: recent research found that only 8% of people believe companies should stop advertising. When you do, focus on streaming TV and social media, including gaming and live content. AR and IR have a role to play as long as social distancing continues (for-sale house tours, anyone?) and you can get away with a lot less polish when it comes to production value (see also: Parks and Rec’s recent episode and SNL at home). One cool new ad venture worth mulling over? Quibi. They’ve bet big on mobile-only short form content with mega stars like Chrissy Teigen, Liam Helmsworth and Cardi B signed on for 10-minutes-or-less snackable shows, but with their on-the-go millennial and Gen Z target audience stuck at home with nothing but time on their hands, some industry analysts think it may have hit at the wrong moment. Only time will tell. 

Business not as usual

It’s hard to believe that just 10 days ago we were still driving into the office every morning, grabbing lattes and complaining about the french fries being left off of our lunch order. 

And now here we are, cocooned inside our homes with our people or our pets or maybe just ourselves, plus the neverending stress from the ever-changing rules and not knowing when and how this will end or what the world will look like when we finally emerge.

We are grateful to have work and grateful that it is work we can do from home. Grateful for virtual wine dates and free online concerts and for our fur babies who still think chasing a ball is all you really need to be happy. 

We are also lonely and anxious and missing out on a lot. We are worried about our health and our families and our sanity and about what will happen when the TP finally runs out (sidenote: sales of bidet attachments are 10 times what they were pre-coronavirus). 

Along with the gratitude and fear, there is also joy. We are finding things that make us laugh and let us forget for a moment what’s happening in the world. 

Here is the tribe’s list of what’s making the days hard and what’s helping us make it through. 


Rose: More walks with my dog, Frankie. It’s nice to put some music on and go for a stroll around the neighborhood. Everyone is especially friendly and I’m meeting a ton of neighbors (from our respective sides of the street, of course), giving me a great sense of community.
Thorn: It can be especially lonely for someone who lives alone during this time of social distancing. Daily facetime sessions with friends and family are helping me get by. 


Rose: I’ve been enjoying the extra time to be quiet in my thoughts. Slowing down and “doing nothing” sometimes is a great thing. Despite what may seem like a hard time, I think we can all be thankful for this opportunity the universe is giving us to be still.
Thorn: I didn’t get to see my nephew born. I had things canceled that I was looking forward to. I can’t see my parents or my friends. I have had moments of fear where I’m concerned for the state of our economy and country. The future is very unclear and that’s an uncomfortable thought. 


Rose: Connecting with friends whom I haven’t spoken to in years over virtual wine dates, sunshine and birdsong, and homebrewed iced coffee.
Thorn: Hanging out with my friends and being in a room full of strangers, hearing the chatter and feeling the energy. I’m also sick of being in the same few spaces endlessly. 


Rose: Being able to ride my bike through the neighborhoods around my apartment and seeing other families also outside enjoying the outdoors. It reminds me of a much simpler time.
Thorn: I sadly had to cancel/postpone my wedding. Not only was it an incredibly hard decision, but we also lost thousands of dollars. However, everyone’s safety is more important, and we’re looking forward to celebrating in 2021. What’s 10 more months of waiting? 


Rose: Feeling like I outsmarted the apocalyptic toilet paper hoarders, who I assume are the same people that toilet papered people’s yards on Halloween, by ordering a Bidet.
Thorn: Not splurging for the warm water option on the Bidet.


Rose: Slowing down and taking much-needed time for friends, family and newfound creative outlets. Plus, baking things that make my apartment smell amazing, like cookies and bread.
Thorn: My partner and I planned a big move to Australia in April to be closer to his family. We had to postpone, which was sad for both of us. On the bright side, we procrastinated big time, so we still have our couch, TV and houseplants (the important things).      


Rose: So, on the bright side, my neighborhood started social distancing dance parties. We’ve met neighbors we never did before and learned that none of us are good at dancing.
Thorn: On the not-so-bright-side, watching the businesses we love in the neighborhood (and beyond) struggling is awful. Needless to say, everyone is getting a gift card to a local restaurant for birthdays/holidays for future use.


Rose: I’m really enjoying the camaraderie with clients, creatives, and the community to hustle problem-solving. Nothing like a good pandemic to bring people closer together… while being apart (I felt I needed a bad mom joke).
Thorn: I’ve been talking about a staycation of sorts for months, I just didn’t think that it would force everyone into isolation to make it happen. I’m missing face-to-face time with my team the most–but everyone is really thriving and going above and beyond to pull it all together daily.


Rose: It’s comforting to see that in a time that seems very self-driven, we can still all come together for a common good, even though it’s a dramatic pause on all of our lives.
Thorn: As a college senior, it’s hard to realize that I was unaware of my “lasts” as they happened. Last class, last walk across campus, last time seeing my friends together. My parents may not see me walk the stage at graduation. I wish I’d lived in the present rather than wishing that time away.


Rose: How communities and businesses have pulled together. There’s a stronger sense of community that brings a lot of hope to a frustrating and scary situation. I’m finding new ways to connect with friends and family, like Jackbox games that you can play virtually across time zones.
Thorn: The not-knowing. Not knowing when we can stop social distancing, not knowing if my partner will still have a job next week (he’s in the restaurant industry), not knowing when I might be able to see my family again. There’s no telling where (or when) the pieces will end up falling. 


Rose: I’m using this time as a learning tool for my young children to become more compassionate and understanding of the situation and the consequences for the world.
Thorn: Homeschooling. I can only answer about ¾ of the school questions that they need help with (that fraction was the extent of my math expertise). I’m a terrible teacher. Can I fire myself?


Here’s to all of us keeping the faith, keeping it together and keeping it real.

The evolution of sustainability: where we predict brands will go in 2020

Sustainability has been a big deal for a long time, but there’s more pressure than ever for brands to take it seriously.

The U.N. has issued dire warnings two years in a row about the devastating effects of climate change that we’ll face if we don’t make drastic changes, fast.

Plus, both Millenials and Gen Z — who together account for nearly $350 billion in spending power in the U.S. — now demand sustainable business practices in exchange for their loyalty.

It’s no longer enough to “green” a product by using recycled or responsibly-sourced materials; sustainability has become table stakes, and those who sidestep their environmental responsibilities will quickly become as irrelevant as BlackBerry. Forward-thinking brands who want to stand out have to push the bounds of what’s possible.

Here are three emerging trends we predict we’ll see more of in 2020.

Focus on Local

First, it was eat local, then it was buy local. Now companies are cultivating supplier relationships that support local communities. Madewell’s Hometown Heroes Collective gives local artisans and makers from all over the U.S. a chance to grow their businesses by selling their products on, and IKEA partnered with London designer Tom Dixon to design an experimental model for urban farming in the hopes of spurring more people to take it up.


There is no sustainability without transparency since true sustainability requires understanding the full impact of a company’s value chain, from manufacturing to marketing. Danone/Dannon releases a report that shows their successes as well as shortfalls in striving for a net-zero carbon footprint. Chipotle launched the Young Farmers program to ensure an ample supply of meat and dairy that meets their “food with integrity” guidelines, including the responsible use of antibiotics and giving animals room to roam. Farmers under 40 who meet these standards get seed money and three-year contracts.

Zero Waste

This is one for brands that are looking for a stretch goal. While few companies will hit net-zero, more and more are trying to cut waste as much as possible. Adidas has pledged to use only recycled plastics in shoes and clothing by 2024. MAC takes the empties customers bring back and turns them into pencil sharpeners and other beauty tools, and Nestlé has created the first recyclable candy bar wrapper.

At Hunt, Gather we’re trying to up our sustainability game by focusing on reducing and recycling. It’s easy enough to say no to ketchup packets or plastic utensils and stash reusable bags and coffee cups in the car (and publicly shame tribe members who don’t). And we welcome partnering with clients like Chipotle who continue to push sustainability forward and do their part to create a better world.