COVID-19: Brands Adapt to The New Normal

Written by Steph Strickland, Illustration by Bryce Chan


Overwhelmed. Confused. Anxious.

There are few universal emotions in the world, and yet, as I talk with peers, parents and grandparents, these are the three that weave their way into each conversation.

The world shuddered, and change came all at once. Chairs disappeared from my favorite restaurants and my work moved from an open-concept office to my dining room table.

Everyone is talking about it, and brands are having to adapt their content to fit existing conversations, instead of throwing irrelevant content into non-existing ones. Case in point, this was not the blog post I had planned to write this week.

And yet, here we are – adapting.

There’s a lot of gray area when it comes to COVID-19, but social media and technology have made social distancing feel a little less distant, and conversations about Coronavirus are catching fire on social media. According to Talkwalker, ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’ have been mentioned 322.2 million times, garnering 4.8 billion impressions across social media in the last 30 days (circa March 26, 2020). See? I told you everyone’s talking about it.

Some brands have stepped up to the plate to serve their customers, even when it isn’t the most profitable thing to do. Zoom opened their services to K-12 education as classes across the country are moved to online-only formats. Burger King is offering minimized contact experiences alongside many others in the food-service industry. Adobe is offering free access to students through May 31.

That’s really cool to see. 

But what is even better are the companies looking out for their employees, as well as their customers. Companies including Disney, Taco Bell, Apple, Nike and LuluLemon have committed themselves to their employees during this time through paid time off, additional sick days and other programs that prioritize the health of employees and consumers.

Small businesses are also making an impact as they brace to survive the detrimental impact that closing their doors for COVID-19 may have on their longevity. The hashtag #supportlocal has spiked in popularity from both consumers and the businesses themselves and many buyers are making a bigger effort to shop locally wherever possible. According to Talkwalker, daily posts using the hashtag #shoplocal have surged from hundreds of daily mentions to thousands over the last two weeks (circa, March 26, 2020). 


Graph representing spike in #shoplocal mentions in March 2020 as compared to the previous six month period:


As a consumer, I am taking note of brands that care. Researchers like to say that millennials and Gen Z focus more on ethical brands than any other generation (and this is true – even I’ve said this!) but I think times like this show that young consumers are just looking for businesses to have their back in times of uncertainty. 

Viral online communities have painted Gen Z in a negative light as some spring breakers invoke unnecessary risk in the name of a good time. Older generations see us as irresponsible, uncaring and uninformed. Truth be told, we are just as scared as all of them, even if we are scared of different things. 

Fifty percent of consumers believe the world is in ‘serious danger,’ and Gen Z is not excluded from that sentiment. However, in addition to being concerned about the virus itself, we’re also worried about getting hired, having a place to live, and passing our classes while feeling more distracted than ever. Feelings that are likely a function of an ever-changing stage in life becoming even more unstable. 

The severity of the issue is not lost on Gen Z. We make TikToks in doctors’ offices and write Coronavirus-themed pickup lines for our dating profiles, not because we don’t care, but because this is how we relate to the world. 

Brands that are most effectively reaching Gen Z balance an informal tone with creative ideas that actually solve problems. One brand excelling at this is Chipotle. In addition to the tactical choice to offer free delivery, Chipotle is hosting regular Zoom sessions and livestreams to touch base with its customers. 

There’s a tasteful way to have fun during this time and keep spirits high, and that is a sentiment young consumers can certainly appreciate. 

Everyone I have spoken with feels (even in a small way) a sense of optimism surrounding the virus and how consumers and brands are responding to it. We sign off emails with ‘Sincerely from Social Distance,’ host digital Happy Hours and spend hours crafting the perfect background for our Zoom calls. 

We are here for each other, and we remain hopeful.