Stay human

March 2020 | By Grant Pace

As the events of the last few weeks have unfolded, I’ve found some comfort in focusing on what feels most natural to me: staying calm and trying to help our clients solve problems with creative thinking.

 

I believe crisis can lead to opportunity. Reveal strengths. And bring people together. I still remember the sense of community and shared grief I felt after 9/11. So as a marketer, I try to lean into these times when the ground shifts under our feet, whether it’s a dip in the economy, a bad season on the field or something more unnerving like what we’re witnessing now.

 

I’ve had some experience with it. In ‘95, I went to McKinney & Silver to help relaunch Audi in the US. Their sales had plummeted after a flawed 60 Minutes segment accused their cars of “unintended acceleration”, killing some motorists. The story was later retracted, but their business suffered significant damage. We were able to breathe new life into the brand by highlighting how “fun” the cars were to drive. TIME magazine took note, even quoting some of the more playful lines I had written. The campaign connected with car lovers. And Audi was back.

 

That brings me to Corona beer. We’re not their agency, but I have deep roots in the beer industry, so I’ve paid close attention to their plight. I saw the tweet that claimed how “38% of beer drinking Americans would not buy Corona under any circumstance now,” which CNN helped go viral. And having been on the losing end of some past beer-related disasters (ask me about MGD Light someday) I felt for them. So random. So nonsensical. But consumer behavior can be painfully fickle. Especially when fear invades, because it too is contagious.

 

But here’s the lesson. Amidst the insanity, Corona’s CEO Bill Newlands didn’t panic. He didn’t get defensive, or start blaming others. And he didn’t squirt a lime into the eyes of the cynical social media monster. Instead, he stayed calm and led with his heart, saying simply, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this terrible virus and we hope efforts to more fully contain it gain traction soon.” Nice.

 

He added that his business was, in fact, healthy, sharing: “We’ve seen no impact to our people, facilities or operations and our business continues to perform very well.” And then the kicker, he shared data which showed that Corona sales were actually up 5 percent in the U.S. Wow.

 

The response was genuine. Empathetic. Backed by data. Suddenly, Corona wasn’t a punchline to a bad joke. It was human. And it helped foster a deeper connection with him, his employees and the brand itself.

 

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to use times of extreme emotion to work for you, instead of against you. Rooted in empathy, a mindful reaction to the challenge at hand, and the opportunity to create real, human connections with those affected. Connections which, at my agency, we hold sacred as the cornerstone of a brand’s success.

 

We don’t know when, but the coronavirus will eventually recede. And thanks to a CEO’s ability to put a more human face on his company, the Corona brand may well come out of this healthier than ever. Which is astounding.

 

In the meantime, my fellow empathizers at CTP may be homebound, but we’ll still be hard at work. Seeking creative ideas to help our clients stay focused. Stay calm.

 

And most importantly, stay human.

 

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