Read the Room: Why Your Marketing and SEO Strategies Need to Adapt to the Pandemic

The global pandemic has thrown the world in limbo. Many of the things that people are used to doing in a certain way are no longer possible given the current environment. Consumers and customers are reassessing their priorities, and if your business falls under the non-essentials column, it will be challenging to convince your clientele of the relevance of your products and services during these trying times.

So how do you win your target audience’s favor during the pandemic? One way is to make your brand strategy adapt to the times. Since SEO is closely tied to online branding campaigns, SEO strategies should also adjust accordingly. This means that if you own a retail shop in New York, your SEO team should focus on ranking for curbside pickups, drop-offs, and deliveries.

Additionally, your marketing plan should also adjust according to the current climate. Let’s discuss why.

Insensitive Marketing Have Repercussions

It’s important to read the room, as the common parlance goes, and sympathize when it is what the audience needs and seeks. The public has very little patience for insensitivity under the current circumstances, and if your business commits this blunder, the immediate backlash could be harmful to your sales (and now is not the best time to be boycotted by your target market). Worse, this one mistake could continue to haunt your brand even after the crisis passes.


Here are examples of how ill-timed and insensitive marketing messages during the pandemic can result in backlash.

  1. KFC U.K’s Finger-Lickin’ Good Ad– Back in late February when the pandemic was just gaining traction, KFC U.K. launched a television ad whose theme was ill-timed. It featured actors enjoying the famous chicken and licking their fingers with relish while Chopin played in the background. The ad immediately raised eyebrows as it completely ignored the number one rule for surviving this pandemic: keep your hands clean and sanitized. The Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K. received 163 complaints about the “irresponsible” message of the ad.
  2. Spirit Airlines’ “Off You Go!” Email Marketing Campaign – The budget carrier was accused of being tone-deaf when a marketing email titled, “Never A Better Time To Fly” was sent to its mailing list subscribers. The email was composed before the pandemic and encouraged subscribers to take advantage of budget airfares. Unsurprisingly, the overall messaging, complete with an idyllic picture of a woman doing yoga by a lake, drew flak from Spirit Airlines’ customers.
  3. ASOS’ Chain-Mail Face Masks– ASOS had begun promoting its line of fashionable masks since 2019. Even then, the company had been the subject of ridicule because the masks were useless protection against germs. When the pandemic struck and searches for legitimate face masks surged online, so did the appearance of these ASOS ads. As a result, the company received backlash for supposedly profiteering off people’s fears. That these masks retailed at $17 (£12) further cemented the brand as being out-of-touch with the times. The company has since backtracked and now displays sensible cloth face masks on its site.

Lessons to Learn

From these examples, we can deduce the following steps to ensuring that your marketing and SEO campaigns are in tune with the current market sentiment:

  • Promote awareness about the pandemic – Offer a public service by producing materials that inform the public about COVID-19 and how to avoid the virus.
  • Show empathy – Avoid narratives that are tone-deaf and disregards the struggles of the people who lost their jobs, have been separated from their families, or have contracted the virus, for example.

The pandemic has created a very challenging environment for many businesses. Avoid putting your business in greater harm by practicing tact and being sensitive to the public’s sentiments.

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