POV: It’s 2019. You drive past a billboard advertising the latest iPhone release. Minutes later, you b-line it for the nearest shopping centre to find an Apple store. After purchasing a phone, you see a sales banner outside of your favourite clothing store. Walking in, you are reminded of your personal connection to the brand and leave with a new outfit – a win-win for you and the retailer.

Fast forward to today, things look very different. Unless you happen to live in a COVID-free safe haven like New Zealand, chances are, your purchasing habits have drastically changed. With lockdowns and social distancing in place, brick-and-mortar retail has been put on hold and companies have had to pivot to engage with their customers.

As people young and old adapt to this new way of life, businesses small and large are seeking new ways to share their stories, services and products. Simultaneously, a more conscious, digitally driven consumer has emerged out of the pandemic.

Let’s take a look at how companies are bridging the gap and reconnecting with their audiences during a time of uncertainty, crisis and rapid change.


For most of us, physical storefronts are a thing of the past. With people spending more time at home and online than ever before, companies are capitalising on social media and digital platforms to engage with their customers.

Take a look at Nike – in the first quarter of the year alone, they reported a 75% increase in digital sales. As we close out Q4 and head into 2021 (time flies!), retailers of all sizes are following suit. What’s more, “digital” is no longer confined to traditional e-commerce. It now runs the gamut from Instagram and LinkedIn ads to YouTube banners (shopping on LinkedIn feels very 2020).

Across the board, consumers are more open to interacting with brands on social media, especially those living in countries with stricter lockdowns. According to a survey conducted by Smartly.io, “as more people increase their social media usage during the pandemic, they also seem to be more willing to engage with social ads. The behavioral change can be attributed to the growing need to connect with others during challenging times.”

With the decrease in physical storefronts, new advertising strategies are also emerging – for example, in Brazil, consumers are increasingly engaging with “story” ads. TikTok is another channel – with over 800 million users worldwide, it serves as the perfect platform for content marketing. Chipotle is a prime example – they started a #GuacDance challenge which resulted in their biggest guacamole sales ever, with more than 800,000 sides served in one day. The chain’s avocado usage jumped 68% for National Avocado Day on 31 July.

While the pandemic has opened up new avenues for advertising, companies are walking a fine line – according to AdAge, consumers will outright ignore anything that looks too much like an ad. Companies are carefully considering their approach, spending more time creating visually impactful ads that fall in-line with the curated content we are fed on our go-to platforms.

It is fair to say that advertising during 2020 has turned into a balancing act – so, how should brands be selling themselves?



Everyone knows that successful marketing and advertising campaigns tap into our emotions. As consumers, that is how we connect with our favourite brands. Seems simple, right?

Enter: COVID-19.

We’ve all experienced a lockdown or two in 2020 and can relate to the feeling of coming across a tone-deaf ad while in a vulnerable state – most likely in your pajamas at 2pm scrolling Instagram. Brands are getting dinged left and right for insensitivity (think Corona’s recent launch of their hard seltzer…awkward timing) and in a time of crisis, emotive advertising is not enough. Companies need to read the room and reacquaint themselves with the new COVID consumer.

coming ashore soon

With people trying to connect with friends and family during a period of struggle, brands are humanizing their ads more than ever to align with the needs and concerns of consumers.

According to the same Smartly.io report, one-third of consumers want brands to share relevant messaging that is useful during the pandemic, and four in ten consumers value ads that promote products and services that are relevant to the current lockdown lifestyle.


COVID-19 is the villain of 2020, but let’s talk about one of the silver linings – it has accelerated conscious consumerism. As we hunker down at home, we have more time to learn, read and investigate, leading to a more informed consumer.

Earlier this year, McKinsey & Company surveyed 2,000 UK & German fashion consumers and found that 88% wanted a reduction in pollution, 67% make purchases based on whether or not it was made with sustainable materials, 65% plan to purchase more durable fashion and 63% really consider a brand’s sustainability reputation before making a purchase. This is a drastic change from the mass consumerism we typically see with fast fashion brands like Walmart and Forever 21.

An Accenture survey of over 3,000 consumers across 15 countries also found that the pandemic has created long-lasting changes to consumer behaviour that will remain beyond 2020. For instance, 64% of consumers said they’re focusing more on limiting food waste and will likely continue to do so going forward and 45% of consumers said they’re making more sustainable choices when shopping and will likely continue to do so.

While some of us may still fall victim to greenwashing, brands are having to prove themselves more and more as we become more informed and conscientious.

So, for all the companies out there, let this serve as a gentle reminder: read the room, reevaluate your strategies (think non-traditional) and always be PC (politically correct, for those who aren’t familiar). It is 2020 after all.


Rachel kaminer
Charlie & Co