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Brand heroes and villains in a crisis: part two

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Julian Dailly EVP 2 April 2020

A broader look at brand perceptions

As the threat of Covid-19 becomes a starker reality, the public decide who’s helping and who’s making a bad situation worse.

Trump's approval rating is at an all-time low in the UK at -33%.

Each week we ask 2,000 UK adults, representing around 45m people, about their experiences during the coronavirus outbreak. Additionally, you can gain a daily view of public opinion here.

The problem grows

  • More victims
  • More worry
  • More hardship
  • More uncertainty

Who are the rescuers?

The nation has rallied behind its front-line health professionals. Organisational approval for the NHS is at an all-time high (+84%).

Not only have we been clapping en masse, but 750,000 of us volunteered to help them.

Further, neighbourhood schemes have sprouted up or expanded to bring help to those isolated and in need. There are many million likes, hearts, rainbows and sign-ups.

This is in stark contrast to our opinion of the Trump administration. His personal approval rating, though high in the US, is at an all-time low in the UK (-33%) as is the US government’s (-19%) both down on the week prior as action arrives too late.

We realise this is a time for co-ordinated group action, involving not only our own actions, but the actions of the state and, of course, brands and companies.

At this point in the pandemic, we thought it time to ask the country which brands they have been impressed by and which they have not.

Brands play an important role in society, not only as suppliers and resource bearers but employers and guardians of important social norms. Brands are often built on lofty values they have a choice to execute or ignore. Some do, some don’t.

Here are the top 3 heroes and villains as suggested spontaneously by the British public.

We are impressed

#1     19% of positive mentions  

Values: Responsible leadership, Inclusiveness, Progressiveness, Local integration

(Source: company website)

McDonald’s shut all its restaurants during the Covid-19 epidemic. Bosses decided to close the restaurants because of concerns about ‘safe social distancing’ during takeaway and drive-thru collections. McDonald’s offered free food and drink to all frontline health and emergency service workers between the announcement and the closures.

Incidentally, McDonalds was the top brand in Savanta’s Brand Love Index in Summer 2019.

#2     12%   

Values: No one tries harder for customers, We treat people how they want to be treated, Every little help makes a big difference.

(Source: company website)

Tesco gave all its workers a bonus 10% wage rise to thank them for their extraordinary effort and personal risk-taking during the Covid-19 outbreak, backdated to the 10th of March.

#3    6%    

Values: Trust, Warmth, Passion and Courage

Before Costa Coffee closed its entire network to support social distancing it gave away over 250,000 free drinks to NHS workers. It also made a further commitment to supply 250k canned drinks to NHS workers during the crisis.

We are not impressed

#1  48% of negative mentions

Values: Our aims are to have by far the best CQSMA* standards in the pub world, to be the best company to work for and, by doing these things, to be the most profitable (Source: company website)

* cleanliness, quality, service, maintenance and atmosphere

Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin told workers that he would only pay staff up until the date that the pubs were last open until the government fulfilled its pledge to pay 80% of their wages. Showing questionable loyalty and leadership, Tim suggested his staff apply for jobs at Tesco.

#2      10%   

Values / mission: We value our people, our customers, our shareholders and our third party brand partners – and we strive to adopt good practices in all our corporate dealings. (Source: company website)

Retailer Sports Direct declared that its stores would be remaining open less than 30 minutes after the Boris Johnson delivered his lockdown statement, on the basis that Sports Direct was an “essential service” in the country’s bid to remain fit and healthy during the outbreak. CEO Mike Ashley recognised his opportunism wouldn’t work and was forced to back track several days later amid a PR disaster.

#3      4%  

Values / mission: Travelodge aims to become the favourite hotel for value (Source: company website)

Travelodge told guests that included homeless families and key workers they had just two hours to vacate their accommodation as it sought the closures of 360 UK hotels, despite requests from central government to continue housing these guests.

What does it mean?

At this point the bad guys are Wetherspoons and Sports Direct, receiving over half of all spontaneous negative mentions.

What’s interesting is these are two very broad-based brands aimed squarely at the mass market often playing up their associations with the UK and Britishness. Consumers might rightly feel a sense of betrayal when they perceive these brands to act selfishly in a national crisis.

This feedback highlights three important learnings:

    1. As Boris reminded us last week, there is such a thing called society. The public is coming together and the public expects big brands, who have become big through making large volumes of profitable sales across the country, to put-in as well as take out.
    2. Brands, like people, are citizens and need to remain good citizens; balancing self-interest and the common good. They must prepare to have their financial and tax arrangements inspected when the government comes looking for ways to recover tax-payers’ huge bailouts of businesses and markets. Arrangements they got away with before won’t be acceptable going forwards.
    3. That brands need to prepare well for the return of shoppers and customers. Even in isolation, consumers are building up a picture of brands they will seek out first and reward when their freedom returns– and the brands they will avoid. This graph shows growing Negative Buzz surrounding Wetherspoons has led to an increased number of adults claiming they will “never” consider going to Wetherspoons.

You can find Brand heroes and villains in a crisis: part one here.

As we always say, these posts raise important questions about the role of research in a time of crisis, just as much as they stimulates questions about how the population is dealing with the unfolding, unravelling reality of life in the UK during a pandemic.

Our goal is simple; to help our clients and the business community stay in touch with our increasingly disrupted population and to help everyone better understand what’s going on and what it means for them.

Your comments and connections are welcome, if you would like to know more, to purchase more detailed data or analysis or would like to ask you own questions, please get in touch here.

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