Marketing beer during COVID-19 can be a minefield

Marketing during times of crisis like COVID-19 can be a minefield, rife with discussions about whether private companies should be joining the conversation.

Whether it’s COVID-19 or the Black Lives Matter movement, companies are looking at how to acknowledge issues with sensitivity and relevance.

Great Northern’s latest ad highlights the sensitivities around COVID-related marketing relation and proves to highlight the need for thoughtfulness when promoting products during a crisis.

Brews News spoke to Dr Torgeir Aleti, a lecturer in economics and marketing at RMIT about the Great Northern ad and how to advertise right during COVID generally.

“The Great Northern ad certainly tells a nice narrative, one that fits in with how people are feeling at the moment, and I’m sure it will have an appeal in that sense, but I would question to what extent the brand fits in with that narrative, especially the product,” explained Dr Aleti.

“You’re running the risk that they might resonate with the message but not the brand, there’s not a natural connection between the two, that was my first reaction to it.”

On the other hand Professor Gayle Kerr of QUT Business School said that the Great Northern campaign ticks the boxes of what research such as the Edelman Trust Barometer describes as the kind of advertising people want during COVID-19.

“It shows sympathy and empathy, offers a solution of how people can cope during the pandemic and it certainly isn’t funny,” she said.

However Dr Aleti said for those stuck in a second lockdown in Melbourne, or locked out of states such as Queensland, the promotion of a road trip as part of the campaign could be a hard pill to swallow.

“If it’s just a local ad this doesn’t matter that much but if you look in more general terms I think there are different things to consider during this period,” he said.

“Going back to marketing 101 there’s the four P’s: product, price, place and promotion, and I’m not sure if now is the right time to ramp up on the promotion and push the narratives on a product and try to relate to the COVID situation.

“It’s a good time to look at the other P’s. There’s a brewery down the road from me who have been home delivering the ‘place’ to customers – you can’t go to the pub and drink beer so you need to think creatively about how you can sell your product effectively in a different way, and focus on that.”

Brewers like Moon Dog Craft Brewery which launched its Pub in a Box last week, Bright Brewery’s growler home deliveries of limited releasesto Melbourne fans, as well as the array of mixed cartons.

This product-focused marketing efforts could be the way forward, according to Dr Aleti, especially as people become fatigued with COVID-19 news.

“Every time you watch the news it’s COVID, COVID, COVID. People have had enough,” he said.

“Selling beer, you’re not trying to make people feel better about COVID or making vaccines, or saying that you care.

“You should be thinking about how you can reach our customer base and package and deliver product to them in a more efficient way. That’s more important than communicating about the current situation.”

Meanwhile Professor Kerr explained that by the end of May, a study from Global Web Index Coronavirus Research (May 2020) showed that 56 per cent of Australians approve of brands running normal non-COVID-19 related ads and 68 per cent approve of funny or light-hearted content.

“Consumers may not always know what they want. But what if advertisers always followed their advice?” she said.

“Would advertising start to look a bit vanilla – no matter how beautiful the scenery or how human the story? Is this a great return to safe, unsurprising advertising?”

Kerr suggested that brands should be advertising now, and it might not actually be a time to play it safe, but rather leverage opportunities.

“Take chances. Be bold,” she said. “It took the Grim Reaper, fear appeals and incredibly brave advertising to bowl over AIDS in the 80s.

“Perhaps consider “Do” messages instead of just paid media. While a beautifully shot Guinness ad declared on St Patrick’s Day “We’ll march again”, Miller Lite was raising money for bar tenders who had lost their jobs with #VirtualTipJar.

“Sometimes what a company does resonates more than what it says, generating valuable and perhaps more believable earned media.

“And in all of this, stay true to brand.”

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