Lightness in the Dark: Approaching Marketing in the Time of COVID-19

Hey everyone,

It’s been some time since the last edition of this newsletter went out — largely because we put it into hibernation at the start of this year, to focus more on the day-to-day work within the doors of the agency.

And then the COVID cannonball came out of left field, and the time felt right to send a one-off edition that focuses simply on marketing, and how the heck to approach it smartly, compassionately, and respectfully during these times of turbulence.

First, a disclaimer: This is an event unlike any of the last century, in terms of the mix of globalization, widespread measures, fear that cuts across class and region, and impact. While there have been numerous epidemics and depressions over the previous decades, the spread and second-and-third-and-beyond order effects of COVID-19 is pretty unique. We’ll get through this, but not without society going through some radical changes.

But besides health professionals and some bold economists and political leaders, nobody really knows what the right steps are, and we’re all figuring it out together. That goes for marketing too.

What Can We Do?

So what are the few things we can do as marketers and owners in times like these — that doesn’t feel or come across as opportunism, tone-deafness, or callousness?

1. Show the Love
For existing customers and clients, check in with them, share some exclusive news or “offers” (note: not a discount or flash sale, but something much more individually tailored that will truly help them), promise something in the future, and otherwise just use this time as a respectful opportunity to show them some extra care without being sales-ey or callous.

2. Build Out Your Infrastructure
Presuming that there now may be more time in the day available for your team and you than there was before, this period could be used to fix, upgrade, streamline certain operations, such as your CRM and mailing list (ties into the 1st point), website, or what your message is going to be when things start opening again.

3. Chill Out a Little
There’s a poignant phrase going around, that this isn’t a time when society is learning to work and educate from home all at once, but that this is a time when society is learning to work and educate from home all at once during a global pandemic — it ain’t exactly a normal situation.

So yes, it’s okay for you and your team to have moments of panic and existential dread every so often, and let’s do everything we can to keep morale up and our people as busy as is reasonable…but what “reasonable” looks like now is hugely different than it did a month ago. Turning an expected 8-hour day into an expected 6-hour day goes a long way to lift some of the pressure on being as productive and normal, and lets us all get another walk per day in.

What We’ve Seen

What we’re sharing today is not a “to do” or “best of”, but rather just a mix of articles — some good, some bad, some interesting — that we’ve come across that simply shows how we’re all trying to adapt to the role of a brand, company, or service at a time when most of our audience is staying home, frazzled, worried, and spending money on essentials only (rightfully so).

• The MTA’s transit poster.

Bookshop is an online bookstore that supports local bookstores, finally giving you an option besides Amazon to buy books online and supporting your local bookseller. Read Article.

Avery Swartz has put together an AirTable of volunteer tech, digital marketing, and website helpers for small business and not-for-profits. Read the list, or sign up to volunteer.

• If you want to read a couple of op-sed on marketing in times like this, check out Mark Tomblin’s on The Message or Janet Balis’ in HBR.

• Fried chicken chain Mary Brown’s, of all companies, paid to remove all Postmedia paywalls for all Canadian citizens for the month of April. Read Article.

Cannes Lions has been Cannes-celled. Right move.

A new campaign from Dove is a smart pivot on an existing platform, and a good example of how advertising can still strike the right tone while being relevant to the crisis.

The UN released a global brief for creatives and agencies to tackle messaging and communications around COVID. This open a call may have happened before — but I certainly can’t recall it.

The Guardian have pulled together some of the world’s top museums you can visit virtually. Neat!

Stay safe, everyone. Hope to see you all on a patio soon.

Founder & Creative Director, Stack Creative in Toronto. Find us online at