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contributed by Olaf van Gerwen | Founder & global creative director Chuck Studios

food marketing midst COVID-19: old questions in a new world

It was just three weeks ago. We just launched campaigns for Heinz and l’Or, we were preparing 4 projects for McDonald’s as well as Spanish ice cream, German fast food and beer, Dutch salads and fried chicken, Columbian whiskey, Egyptian cream and international meat alternatives. The team was as exhausted as it was excited to get started on the new jobs. Now, days later, we can only wish those jobs were are only challenge

After travel and hospitality, marketing & communications seems to be the third worst impacted industry in this crisis. Indicative of that are the share prices of marcom holding companies: in the first two weeks, WPP and Publicis have plunged 50%, Omnicom around 40% – significantly more than Dow Jones or AEX. Buckle up, clients and colleagues, we’re in the hot zone. 100% of our shoots and new business meetings have been canceled. In the meanwhile, spring in Amsterdam has begun. Everyone is doing what is important but not urgent. Walking my dog, I see all the bars and restaurants in my neighborhood doing sanding, cleaning and renovating. As do we: all the studio deferred maintenance is done and the floor is finally painted. Now, let’s see if we can get back to business.

We are lucky. Some of our shoots can be done with minimal crew. It will take more time, but in the end we’ll get there. Creative work and post-production can proceed remotely. So there’s still a lot we can do, with crew of 3-5 people, in a space where we can respect the mandatory 150cm distance and follow strict rules on hygiene. But this time around, let’s maybe skip the hand model. Maybe show three close-ups instead of a wide shot. If the pack is not here, we’ll CG it in. Or send us the PDF and we’ll mock it up. We’ve also made an Inspiration Page about food in CGI and animation – is that an area to explore? In the meanwhile, don’t hesitate to ask for delicious food shots, slow motion, special effects or delicate food styling.

But most importantly, brands will have to reconsider their messaging. For food brands in particular, the usual concepts of indulgence and sumptuous eating seem entirely out of place. The fear is being seen as tone-deaf or frivolous. Now simply is not the time to announce a new tangy jalapeno sauce to the world. 

All consumer-centric communication amidst this horrible crisis revolves around safety, health, availability, accessibility, best practices, and (of course) hope. And how do you know which way to go? However, before tossing all of these components together and calling it good, start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. What are we really offering to a society in crisis?
  2. Who specifically are we offering it to?
  3. How do we pull it off?

These are old questions in a new world. We are seeing so many of our food clients ask themselves these questions in the past few weeks and have come away with an entirely new outlook. Truthfully, the marketing game has long distracted them from their core. This crises and this humbling situation has grounded them in reality and revealed their most honest voice. To every food brand that has yet to join the conversation, or update their marketing strategy, how will you let this crisis impact you?

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