These CPG Brands Showed us How to Thrive in Crises Long Before COVID-19

In this COVID-19 era, a lot has been said about what brands should be doing to build connections and invest in communities. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced a far-reaching public or environmental crisis, and it certainly won’t be the last. As a former consumer packaged goods (CPG) executive, I’ve seen many brands respond with authenticity to a crisis “opportunity”, doing so with a long-term view, not a quick-fix ROI mindset. We can apply what we’ve learned from those organizations to the challenges we face today with the novel Coronavirus.

Brands that lead with genuine purpose anchored in their brand equities and product points of difference can not only strengthen their existing identity, they can create a platform that helps them thrive through the crisis and for years following. CPG companies in particular should look to transform current events into a long-term campaign idea with recurring rewards. It is critical that the commitment to community be done genuinely and be served by the brand’s intrinsic and extrinsic product benefits. While some consumers may see the obvious commercial opportunities, many will appreciate the way brands amplify their impact on the world. Here are a few examples of powerful consumer brands who have built a winning marketing strategy in the face of a crisis.

Dawn’s 40-Year Commitment to Wildlife

Since 1978, Dawn has supported the International Bird Rescue and Research Center and has a similarly long relationship with the Marine Mammal Center. In 1989, when the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska devastated wildlife, P&G leaned into Dawn’s reputation for getting grease out of the way and touted the dishwashing liquid as the perfect solution for removing oil from birds and marine mammals without damaging their delicate skin.

“Dawn Saves Wildlife” is now one of the longest-running cause marketing campaigns in history and has donated millions to its wildlife partners over the years. Though the Exxon Valdez oil spill has come and gone, Dawn has answered the call to action for nearly every oil spill since and is a champion of marine wildlife rescue.

This genuine extension of the brand amid crisis reflected a positioning that Dawn had long ago staked out: it gets grease out of the way. By finding an outlet to serve others using its known product benefits and existing philanthropic relationships, Dawn has maintained its undisputed market leadership position in hand dishwashing.

Always Reclaims “Like a Girl”

In 2014, Always feminine products unveiled its “Like a Girl” campaign, whose commercial launch was widely considered a Super Bowl 49 favorite. Though the spot brought viewers to tears, the true power of this campaign lies in how Always extended its brand benefits to empower girls and young women in need.

 In many countries, girls miss out on weeks and even months of school each year due to taboos around menstruation and limited access to feminine hygiene products. Today, the “Like a Girl” campaign donates feminine hygiene products and supports puberty and health education and literacy programs for girls around the world.

By understanding exactly how its products could address a specific philanthropic need, Always created an authentic expression of its identity. “Like a Girl” is rooted in a commitment to doing good in the face of tremendous adversity while staying true to the brand’s established identity and product benefits.

Tide Comforts Disaster Survivors With Clean Clothes

Tide’s “Loads of Hope” program launched in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as residents of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi found themselves without power and/or water for several weeks. Brand street teams armed with Tide detergent and captaining mobile laundromats toured the region offering comfort to survivors, first responders and volunteers in the form of clean laundry. As Tide North American VP Sundar Raman noted, “The simple act of wearing your own clean clothes means so much to people. It’s self-esteem, it’s a sense of confidence, it’s like, ‘okay I can rebuild starting back up from this point.’”

As of 2019, “Loads of Hope” had provided nearly 70,000 loads of clean laundry for natural disaster survivors across the U.S. by collaborating closely with boots-on-the-ground disaster relief organizations.

Tide’s “Loads of Hope” cause marketing works so well because in a time of tremendous need, it anchored its long-term philanthropic efforts in the brand’s product superiority, while acting as a servant-leader. The program showcased what Tide does best—getting clothes clean—while its long-standing selling line, It’s Got to be Tide, shows Tide’s ultimate leadership swagger.

Harnessing Product Benefits for Good

CPG brands are at their best when their crisis and cause marketing feel like a natural extension of the product benefits. Highlighting how the product has always served and applying that use to a specific community need provides a meaningful and relevant platform for brands to talk about themselves. Today’s challenges are an opportunity for brands to put their core values front-and-center and lean into the identities they have already staked out for themselves. By looking at crisis as an inflection point on which brands can build long-term strategy and brand equity, they will not only thrive through COVID-19 and beyond, they’ll discover ways to make an impact on communities for years to come, too.

About the Author: Brad Casper is Chief Executive Officer of OH Partners Advertising in Phoenix, Arizona. Brad is leading OH through a transformational agenda that has seen OH morph into the largest agency in Arizona over the past two years. OH has also been on the Inc 5000 list of fastest growing companies for six years, moving up 1000 places in August 2018.

Casper is no stranger to leadership and growth challenges on the client side. He worked at P&G from 1995 to 2001 and progressed through a variety of brand management and general management roles in Cincinnati, Japan, Hong Kong/China and Global business units. He then served as President of Church & Dwight in Princeton, New Jersey for three years, until he was recruited to become President and CEO of the Dial Corporation in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2005.

Following more than five years at Dial, Brad embarked on an entrepreneurial path, holding down leadership roles in two private equity-backed companies, President of the Phoenix Suns, plus serving in Board of Director roles in various public, private, and nonprofit entities. 



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