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The global COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on businesses and on digital marketing practices around the world, regardless of what industry they’re in. Some industries, particularly consumer-facing businesses like restaurants and physical retail stores, have been hit the hardest.

However, as more companies pivot to strengthening their online presence and enlist digital marketing agencies to take advantage of the growing eCommerce trends, brands are also taking the opportunity to address the pandemic directly through their own digital marketing efforts. Where some businesses may be looking to scale down their marketing budget, we have seen online marketing successes come from brands that are using this time to connect to their consumer in a more thoughtful way.

In this article, we will be looking at four different brands that have pivoted their marketing messaging to reflect the crisis. We will take a deep dive into each social media case study, including why a brand’s messaging was effective, why it resonated among its consumer base, and what your brand can take away from these marketing “wins” during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Nike: Leveraging the Power of a Global Brand

One of the most common types of content marketing messaging we have seen during the crisis comes in the form of a PSA (public service announcement), which has proven to be successful for Nike and its Play for the World campaign. Using the hashtags #PlayInside and #PlayForTheWorld, the brand’s core messaging addresses what health officials have encouraged populations to do during the crisis: stay indoors and limit non-essential travel. By using its social media channels and sharing online content, Nike’s digital marketing efforts focus on its messaging and its free resources (such as livestreaming workout sessions) than its more well-known products, like shoes and clothing.



The tweet above showcases the first piece of content from its campaign. The posts have received a lot of engagement with over 695K likes and over 6,500 comments on Instagram, and over 131.5K likes, 32.1K retweets, and over 1,200 comments on Twitter. Nike’s campaign has been a hit among consumers and the media alike, with publications like Fast Company praising the company’s messaging and how it’s using its global influence to support and promote social distancing efforts.

Nike’s original post and messaging has been shared by famous athletes, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, and Lebron James, who customized the image with his signature. The LA Lakers also retweeted Nike’s original post and added their own brand to the image.




One reason why Nike’s Play for the World campaign has been so successful is that it is actively leveraging its partnerships with key athletes, tapping into their popularity and personal brand. While a user may not follow Nike’s brand accounts, they may follow Lebron James or Ronaldo on social.

Another reason why Nike’s campaign has been successful is that its messaging comes at the right time and was delivered in a sensitive yet impactful way. With over 5.7 million views, its Play for the World video shown below showcases how powerful messaging can be a strong emotional driver that makes the content more relatable to viewers. The video features some of the brand’s top athletes, such as Lebron James and Sara Hughes, interspersed with content featuring regular people.




As a global brand addressing a global pandemic, Nike’s use of language is key. In addressing everyone as being a part of “one team” and using “we,” its content marketing is emphasizing a sense of unity. When brands consider their messaging during times of crisis, it is important to make sure to include everyone, not just their core consumers or stakeholders.


Popeyes: Using a Lighthearted Tone


Next up on our list is Popeyes Chicken which, admittedly, is only partly a marketing win and could have been better executed.

In keeping up with its brand tone, which is humorous and playful, Popeyes posted a tweet saying it would share a Netflix password with the first 1,000 people to post a picture of them and their Popeyes meal using #ThatPasswordFromPopeyes. This giveaway was done in response to more people self-isolating and staying at home.

Let’s start off by covering what Popeyes did well. The campaign used a branded hashtag that, while on the longer side, includes the company’s name and is very unique. Branded hashtags are an effective way to monitor online conversations among other social media users. The tweet also received much more engagement than the brand’s regular content, which typically sees around 100 likes per post.



However, given the serious nature of the COVID-19 crisis, not everyone thought Popeye’s tweet hit the mark as the brand been criticized by some for being too insensitive to the situation. So, how could Popeyes have improved their messaging? 

Part of Popeye’s misstep was leading off its COVID-related content with a more lighthearted post, rather than addressing the crisis directly. When a business is dealing with a crisis, the first piece of content posted will effectively act as the brand’s stance on the situation. By only making light of the situation, this signals that the brand is out of touch with the issue.

During times of crisis, brands must carefully consider every piece of content being posted to their social media channels. Digital marketers may want to put their regular content on hold and create new content related to the crisis. While Popeyes’s brand personality has a more humorous approach, in times like these it is perfectly fine for brands to adopt a more serious tone.


Ford: a Consumer-Centric Approach


Next up on our list is Ford. The company took a much different approach, using its social media channels to deliver messages that empathized with its consumer while offering resources to help support them.




The company launched its Ford Credit Support program for its customers who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. During March Madness, Ford would have been heavily promoting its seasonal sales events. However, the company recognized that its scheduled social media campaigns would not have struck the right chord with consumers and it decided to pull the ads.

In times of crisis, businesses and their marketing teams have to remain vigilant. With the impact COVID has had on businesses and the overall economy, switching to a consumer-centric campaign was the right move for Ford. It demonstrates the brand’s awareness to the situation, while also taking the opportunity to deepen customer loyalty and retention.

Since then, the majority of Ford’s social media feed has been highlighting its consumers, how the company will support them during this crisis, and what Ford is doing to support frontline workers.




Content that is overly self-promotional can come across as insensitive, so it is important for brands to step back and understand how a crisis may impact their consumers.


NuFace: Pivoting to Content Marketing


The final brand on our list of marketing wins during COVID is NuFace, which manufactures skincare devices used at spas and are also sold at physical retailers, like Sephora. With non-essential stores closing, NuFace found itself in a difficult position. More consumers are staying at home, so how can a brand reach its audience? 

NuFace’s answer was to make use of content marketing and double down on its brand awareness campaign.




NuFace has made effective use of Instagram’s IGTV feature, posting over a dozen high-quality videos during the pandemic. Many of these videos are close to one hour and feature the company’s CEO, Tera Peterson.




Adapting and being flexible are traits that are crucial to surviving economic downturns and sudden shifts in the retail environment. With physical retail stores and spas closed, NuFace quickly shifted to offering virtual consultations with an aesthetician through Zoom.

The Virtual House Call has been developed with both new and existing customers in mind. Aestheticians are equipped to answer any skincare-related questions someone may have, or provide expert tips on how to use a specific NuFace product. These online appointments include a 20-minute one-on-one consultation, a personalized list of recommendations, and a $25 gift card towards their next purchase on NuFace’s site.



Content that drives brand awareness will always be relevant for a business, regardless if it is marketing during a time of crisis or not. It’s a way to reach new audiences, new potential consumers, and spread their brand messaging. With the COVID pandemic, we are seeing more businesses coming to the realization that brand awareness is beneficial in the long run.


Digital Marketing During a Crisis


Digital marketing during a crisis can be a challenge, but the four companies discussed in this article highlight the fact that social media continues to be an effective way to communicate with consumers. Developing an appropriate message, creating content that resonates with consumers, and choosing the right time to speak out are all elements of a successful social media campaign.


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In the meantime, follow Spark Growth on Instagram! Be sure to check out our latest posts to learn more about why Zoom has been so successful during the COVID pandemic.

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