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Marketing Strategies: How Brands Are Pivoting During Hard Times

Angie Tran

Content Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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Have you ever heard of a “black swan event”? That’s what Sequoia Capital, Silicon Valley’s most prominent VC firm, is calling the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak: The “black swan of 2020,” or in other words, an unusual event that has a significant impact on the world. This sentiment is undoubtedly shared by many businesses as consumer activities are grounding to a halt. So, how do you pivot your marketing strategies during this challenging time to survive? Let’s take note from the brands and artists around the world who are making the most of these circumstances. 


The automotive industry has taken a hit during these uncertain times. Sales are dented, store traffic is slower than ever, and some car companies are even suspending work at their factories. Because of this, the auto industry is one of the first to adapt through online avenues such as social media. 

  • Virtual showrooms: In China, Mercedez-Benz ran a campaign on the WeChat app that lets people see a 360-degree interior view of its GLB SUV.
  • Online lookbooks and delivery: Chinese automotive manufacture Geely got creative with their offerings and launched a service that allows customers to browse and purchase cars online. Customers even have the option of getting their cars delivered straight to their homes. 

Key takeaway: Think outside the box in terms of your marketing strategies. What can you offer your customers during this time? Identify their challenges and figure out ways to make their lives easier. In the instance of Geely, they knew that people are more hesitant to buy a car because it’s a huge purchase — by offering a delivery option, it crosses out the concern of, “Do I have to travel back and forth to buy this?” 


Nightlife is slowly dwindling to nothing as bars, nightclubs, concerts, and even movie theaters are shutting down. However, brands and artists are adapting to this jarring change and are finding ways to entertain people virtually. 

  • Cloud raves: In a smart move to stay afloat, nightclubs have begun live-streaming DJ sets on Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of TikTok. According to Vice, this “cloud clubbing” phenomenon has been quite successful, with almost 2.3 million people tuning into Beijing club SIR TEEN’s cloud rave on February 10th. It’s also lucrative — Shanghai nightclub TAXX earned $104,000 in tips paid through the app during a single Livestream that gained 71,000 views.  
  • Virtual concerts: In the US, as various festivals and concerts are canceled, the show must go on for many musicians. A significant number have taken to the web to stream free live performances for their fans, such as Coldplay, John Legend, and Keith Urban.
  • On-demand services: As movie theaters across the country are closing and box office revenue suffers an all-time low, NBCUniversal has become the first studio to make new videos available on-demand. The company is releasing a handful of its newest films for customers to watch from their homes for a fee of $19.99.

Key takeaway: Your marketing strategies shouldn't always focus on the bottom line. Doing something like a free virtual concert leaves an indelible mark on your customers. Remember that in times like these, empathy goes a long way. 


Similar to businesses across the world that are affected by this fallout, fitness chains are struggling as customers are encouraged to practice social distancing. As gyms begin to close, fitness brands recognize consumers’ need to keep an active, gym-free lifestyle.

  • Workout videos: Brands like Nike have been posting home workout videos via TikTok, replacing weights with home supplies such as water bottles.
  • FaceTime coaching: Exclusive gym Dogpound is offering FaceTime sessions to provide individualized tips and at-home programming for clients. 
  • Virtual fitness trials: Peloton’s fitness app offers a 90-day trial for home workout routines. 

Key takeaway: It’s important to ask yourself how people can leverage their current surroundings (in this case, at home) and come up with ways to apply your industry knowledge. 


The beauty industry is also taking a break at this time — beauty giants such as Sephora and Ulta are shuttering their doors for the foreseeable future. 

  • Relevant campaigns: In the UK, beauty brand Lush pivoted their campaigns to focus on the importance of personal hygiene vigilance — particularly with hand-washing. Their website and social media encourage people to wash their hands regularly, and although they don’t mention the virus outright, the company released a statement that says, “We’re using our shop windows to promote the hand-washing guidelines as advised by the NHS in the UK and other public health organizations around the world. The current situation with the spread of the new coronavirus means that it is more important than ever that people regularly wash their hands.”
  • Waived shipping fees and flexible in-store returns: Under the newest version of its policy, Sephora is waiving standard shipping fees for online purchases and will accept all in-store returns starting 30 days from whenever the store reopens.

Key takeaway: If possible, create helpful marketing campaigns that reflect the current times. For example, Lush may have zoned in on hand-washing, but can your brand release a campaign around combatting feelings of isolation and boredom? Note that these campaigns should be approached with the utmost caution, in case your message comes off as opportunistic. 

There’s a strong business case to be made for maintaining, and even expanding, your marketing strategies even in an uncertain economy. Learn how to make the most out of your performance marketing budget

For additional reading around how your business can prepare for a new normal, download your copy of Tips for Acquiring and Retaining Customers Through Economic Change.

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