We’ve all seen it by now – in LinkedIn posts, news coverage and op-eds: the sentiment of "Brands that don't have a role, shouldn't play a role." Or, "If you can't help, keep quiet."
This may be fair advice, but how can we define helping in this unprecedented environment? What does help really look like? In reality, very few brands outside of essential product and service providers can help negate the impact of COVID-19. Even fewer can play a role in stopping the virus itself, save for the media and the scientific and medical community.
Indeed, arguably one of the best things brands can do at this time is try to keep their businesses going and their staff employed.
It’s Time for a Broader Take on "Having a role"
Contrary to the messaging we’re seeing, I would argue in these times that many brands can have a role, and many brands should find a role – even if it’s not immediately obvious.
Kudos to LVMH for their efforts to repurpose factories to make hand sanitizer. To the CEOs from four major US retailers – Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens – who announced they would lend use of their parking lots for drive-through COVID-19 testing. And even to Coca-Cola in the Philippines for not just turning off the marketing tap, but redirecting that budget to response and relief efforts.
From a well-being standpoint, cheers to Headspace for offering free content for those who need it most during a time of mass anxiety. And well done to the brands and businesses that make working from home and self-isolation a little bit easier, from Peloton to Google.
In the midst of this public health crisis, these brands have played a meaningful role.
But, if we tell every brand that doesn’t play a direct role in responding to COVID-19 to be quiet, then aren’t we further contributing to the problem and missing out on the diverse contributions brands offer to their customers, employees and the economy at large?
Let all brands join the fight
If a brand wants to speak, let them speak. Let them do what they can to maintain a dialogue. To keep connected, maintain engagement and drive consideration. Now has to be a time for brands to act where they can to support their employees, to support their business, to support our economy.
Does that mean they should take advantage of people? No. Should they pretend they are doing something they aren’t? Absolutely not.
But every brand should have the opportunity to speak and define their own role and POV, beyond the generic email (that everyone has already read 100+ times) to communicate what they’re doing to help.
At a time when many of us feel helpless in our ability to solve the challenges we’re facing, giving brands a role and supporting their ability to maintain normalcy as much as possible is at least one thing we can do to help. For their sakes and, in turn, ours.
So the next time you question if a brand should have a role, ask not "if" but "what." And let people decide if they want to act on that,
Tim Harvey is chief growth officer & partner at BBH.