It has to be said, Pornhub offering free premium access to its audience throughout the Coronavirus lockdown is a strike of pure branding gold. Not only has the temporary offer been used as a play to the ‘Stay at home’ message that the world is now accustomed to, but it genuinely adds value to its audience, acts to capture additional data and provides a sense of camaraderie to its users. 

Given the site’s premium subscription model, the move could well net them a more profitable client base in the long run. With an entire globe in lockdown, an average of 130 million visits per day over the current COVID period, a subscription price of $9.99 per month and an average retention rate for those who upgrade of 10%, the move could create a benchmark for success in terms of brand response in a crisis. Given the reception to the offer, it is likely that the campaign will result in a happy ending for more than just the users. 

Apart from the stay home, stay safe and stay busy messaging, Pornhub is also offering 100% less the admin fee of their video sales to performers who have been financially impacted by COVID as well as donated $25,000 to the Sex Workers Outreach Union – a demographic that no doubt will be overlooked by government subsidies. Another great, on-brand and here to help move from the website giant.

Adweek’s analysis of Pornhub’s usage on March 11, the day the WHO declared Coronavirus a pandemic.

With the role of marketing and advertising to reflect the thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes of its target audiences, brands that have shown the agility to lean forward, optimise their creative and respond to the new world with a strong brand voice and visible brand values will be rewarded.

If you’re a brand, you have the ability and agility to repurpose or create new creative in line with the new world. This shouldn’t be a question of if, it should be a question of what, when and how. Consumers expect this as a minimum. Seeing ads of boating, camping, and fishing in the great outdoors while we are on indefinite home arrest is no longer aspirational but plain old BCF’ing annoying. As challenging as the conversations may be to amend creative and bend brand guidelines, not reflecting the world as it is now, however temporary, will be damning to the rapport you have built your desired audience.

All the big players have leaned in and reimagined their brand creative in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Jeep, Nestle, Nike, and Dove are some of the many names that have shown agility with their approach to creative rollouts at this time. But not all messages are received with the same post-coital glowing reviews as Pornhub. Brands who amend creative to buy into the times, although brave, run the risk of being tokenistic in their approach. For a brand to enter a conversation in our time of need, we, as consumers expect brands to support the values that we align with that brand, not just a creative facelift.

Nike’s creative remained on brand and appealed to the emotive side of their audience.

Data from the Havas ‘Meaningful Brands’ study backed up what we as consumers already know; it is not enough to sympathise in tough times, we expect our brands to empathise and to assist in driving change to make the world better again. The study, which surveyed 300,000 people globally, revealed that over 66% of Australian consumers would have no issues walking away from a brand that focuses on commercial growth over driving meaningful change in times when the chips are down. Creative tokens of camaraderie are not enough unless a brand is willing and able to back it up with action points. Despite what is an influx of clever creative, not all brands have put their money where their mouths are and consumers are reacting vocally.

Speaking of chips, one of the brands to feel the pinch is McDonald’s, owner of the beloved golden arches. Maccas, who has copped a beating for playing into the ‘Stay Home’ messaging, was criticised by its audience for not playing an active role in aiding the situation. In Brazil, Maccas, or McDonald’s in Portuguese, posted an image to their social channels of those famous arches separated, a visual representation of social distancing. The stunt was created with the help of Brazilian ad agency DPZ&T, and was paired with the statement (translated from Portuguese) “Separated for a moment so that we can always be together”.

Dove once again heroed real women in real situations.

“As a brand that operates in nearly 120 countries, we share a collective responsibility to help our communities in times of need,” a representative of McDonald’s said. “Throughout the world, we are modifying operations to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and increasing our already-strong hygiene standards to protect the restaurant crew and the public. We apologise for any misunderstanding of the intent to remind our customers and communities on the importance of social distancing during these uncertain times.”

Turns out the Brazilian McDonald’s social following have no interest in clever creativity, what they want is action. Which begs the question, if Maccas sent everyone a free Happy Meal with the message to stay home and play would the message have been better received? Or what if they offered to donate $1 from every Big Mac throughout the pandemic to the health care workers of the world, would their following be more receptive to the message? After the statement was released McDonald’s closed all dining areas and shut up all shopfronts in UK and Ireland affecting over 135,000 staff.

Jeep’s creative change once highlighted the inimitable front of their vehicles while playing up a new kind of challenge for their audience, kids at home.

Other brands such as Dove, Nike, and even Coca-Cola have all updated creative to include social distancing or stay home messaging and have avoided criticism in the way that McDonald’s has. One reason that these brands have been let off the hook in terms of scrutiny could be that these brands often play to the thoughts, feelings, and fears of their audience and align a message to the people, not the product. Perhaps if a brand lives and breathes by the ethos of benevolence they, therefore, have earned the right to play in this space over brands that haven’t, such as McDonald’s.

For McDonald’s to issue an apology it means that they have admitted fault for what was a seemingly innocuous and timely piece of brand creative. The result of admitting fault means that quite possibly the detracters were on the money when they criticised the company of chasing awards and accolades and being apathetic over empathetic. 

Kit Kat’s tagline perfectly fit the sentiment of the WHO and the world.

It’s not the first time that Maccas has been in hot water around using creativity as a way to enter a meaningful, social conversation. For the last two years running, McDonald’s has inverted their ‘M’ to a ‘W’ across its social channels to celebrate International Women’s Day. Another move that saw huge backlash on social, albeit one they haven’t yet backed away from. For a brand with such a broad audience, smart creative is no longer enough for a brand to pipe into a conversation. Yes, Maccas acknowledges that it is IWD – but how about they offer Big Macs to women for 14.6% less of the price in line with the current Australian gender pay gap?

As an audience, we are more forgiving towards brands who we feel are aligned with our plight in the good times, not just the bad times. By highlighting social values when they are not promoted throughout the year it can create the sense that a brand is an ambulance-chasing. The Doves and the Nikes of the brand world earn the right to use creativity as a social highlighter because we feel that their marketing is always in our favour.

Or perhaps it just comes down to the fact that Maccas customers on social media may just not be as relaxed as those visiting Pornhub.

Written by Laura-Jade Harries, advertising obsessive and founder of sales talent development agency EQ Sales.

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