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Brand heroes and villains in a crisis: part one

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Scott Dodgson Account Director 1 April 2020

A look at the restaurant and casual dining sector

Does it truly matter if you do the right thing?

The biggest mover here was Franco Manca. An incremental 2 million people are now aware of the pizza brand than before March.

In the current climate, it’s less about capes and more about scrubs.

That said, which brands are having a ‘good’ crisis? By that we mean truly living their values in extremis. In sharp contrast, which propositions are failing miserably to do the ‘right thing’… or are perceived to be, at least, by the media?

Equally, does it really matter?

Can a brand – and a business – behave like a rogue and escape untarnished? Once the storm has passed and memories have faded, will we be slinking back to the brands we righteously denounced on Twitter several weeks or months prior?

We dived into our BrandVue data to explore further, initially taking a peek at the restaurant/casual dining sector. A landscape that, we’d all agree, has been absolutely buffeted by recent events and borne an unprecedented amount of financial pain.

The heroes: seeing the bigger picture and playing it well 

So, firstly, to our heroines and heroes. As they don their costumes within telephone-box confines, let’s remind ourselves of some of their good deeds…

Deliveroo and UberEats 

The online food delivery companies have offered hundreds of thousands of meals to medics fighting Covid-19, looking to deliver some 500,000 hot dishes to NHS Trusts from the likes of Pizza Hut and Neat Burger.

Both have seen an uplift in Consideration in the last week of March, with approximately 1 million more people saying they would consider using Deliveroo than in the week prior, and 2 million more for UberEats.

Just Eat

Just Eat has offered deep discounts to those in the medical community, with the Health Secretary praising these efforts for “playing their part in this great national effort”.

Just Eat witnessed a similar upward trajectory, and this increase drove them from just outside the Top 10 of brands that the public would consider using within the Eating Out market all the way up to fourth.

Similarly, within the broader FeedNHS initiative, the likes of Franco Manca, Leon and Itsu have been offering meals or making donations to support NHS hospitals which have been struggling to cope with the additional catering needs brought about by the current challenge.

The biggest mover here was Franco Manca. An incremental 2 million people are now aware of the pizza brand than before March.

Leon also hit prominence by looking to turn its restaurants into mini-supermarkets in a bid to ease food concerns caused by panic-buying. This saw Positive Buzz hit the highest levels since we started tracking the brand in early 2017, with nearly 4 million people saying they had heard something positive about Leon last week. 

So, to the numbers.

In short, the impact upon positive brand noise, or buzz, is self-evident – with metrics heading northwards. Whilst it is worth noting that the individual restaurant brands, in the main, gain a slightly greater uplift than the delivery aggregators, it’s uplift all-round.

The villains: missteps and misreading public mood 

The most notable of the brands coming under fire is Wetherspoons with the brand recently facing criticism for appearing to demonstrate uncaring behaviour which lacked empathy. Albeit the reality will, without doubt, be far more nuanced.

Over 10 million people said they heard something negative about the brand over the weekend, making them the highest ranked brand in all of Eating Out for the Negative Buzz metric.

At the same time, just last weekend (the last of March), Consideration for Wetherspoons also took a notable dip, seeing them fall from 13th to 18th in the market and accounting for a decrease of around 6 million individuals versus the average through January and February.

The lasting impression for many is of Tim Martin telling employees that they would no longer be receiving wages and should get jobs in Tesco instead. This was further compounded by the business clumsily informing alcohol suppliers they faced a moratorium on payments until the pub estate re-opens. Once again, what do the brand metrics tell us?

Well, it’s a complete counterpoint to the previous numbers. Negative brand buzz has escalated 4 points; with top-two-box affinity ranking for Wetherspoons also down. Whilst this weakening in the numbers is not significant – yet – it is, nonetheless, marked.

Short and long-term impacts 

So, do we take the Robert Kennedy quote “history will judge you” at face value? At one level yes, the brand metrics undoubtedly show a relative strengthening/softening depending upon perceived behaviour. Brands don’t suddenly stop being appraised through the hard times; consumers have long memories.

For the likes of Wetherspoons, however, criticism primarily stems from non-customers – those who would never consider visiting in the first place. Whilst its loyal customer base rallies around the flag – most likely dismissing media criticism as liberal elite bias, rooted back to Tim Martin’s outspoken Brexit stance.

It is also important that the delivery aggregators do not overplay their white knight role. Whilst being lauded for their support of the NHS, some criticism has been attracted, with unions highlighting that the delivery firms are “still failing” to support their own low-paid workers during the crisis. Not everything in the garden is entirely rosy!

To gain a deeper understanding of longer-term impacts, it’s important we revisit the brand numbers later in the year. When, hopefully, we will be over the worst.

Our annual Top 100 Most Loved Eating Out Brands report – published in autumn – should provide a good vehicle through which to view.

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

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