COVID-19: How brands, businesses and agencies are responding

Like everyone else, The Message is still figuring out what to do and how best to do it under these extraordinary circumstances. Our approach is likely to change in the days ahead. We’ll talk about how our community is responding—not just coping, but adapting and applying some of the creative firepower that defines the industry to devise new ways of moving forward in the weeks and months ahead. For now, we’re starting with a digest of what we are seeing out there in terms of how brands and industry businesses have responded in the short term.

March 17

Hudson’s Bay Company is closing all of its Canadian stores for the next two weeks, and will assess reopening at that time. “Your health and well-being, and that of our associates, remains at the forefront. Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other,” it said in an online statement.

Dillon’s Distillers, a small batch spirits producer based in Beamsville, Ont., is bottling up 65% alcohol for disinfecting purposes. It is making the bottles available free of charge to essential services and organizations that need them. The company says that it will have more than 1,000 bottles available by tomorrow.

The LCBO announced Tuesday that it is reducing store hours at all of its stores from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., beginning Thursday. It will also stop accepting product returns.

Tim Hortons is closing all in-restaurant dining rooms until further notice, instead emphasizing drive-through, take-out and delivery. “This is an important time for leadership in Canada and globally,” it said in a statement. “We all need to make a difference for the health and safety of the people we love and the communities we live in and care deeply about.”

March 16

Cineplex announced Monday evening that it is closing its network of theatres and location-based entertainment venues, including Playdium and the Rec Room. The shutdown began on Monday and runs through April 2. Cineplex, which represents about three-quarters of Canada’s film exhibitor market, said that it will re-assess the situation after that period.


0.jpgEven during a period of uncertainty, the human need for humour continues.

Troy J. Sacco, vice-president of global sales for the Dallas-Fort Worth steakhouse chain Fogo de Chao, has created a LinkedIn post that’s sure to resonate as teleconferencing becomes the norm over the next few weeks.

“Working from home conference bingo,” has a list of the most commonly used phrases by people during conference calls, from “I”m sorry, you cut out there,” to “I have a hard stop at…” and “(Sound of someone typing, possibly with a hammer).” Guilty as charged on that one, I’m afraid.

Cossette CEO Melanie Dunn posted a message on the agency’s home page today under the headline “We’re all in this together.” T’he post outlines the steps Cossette is taking to stop the spread of COVID-19, from having staff work from home to cancelling all travel and moving in-person meetings to digital channels or conference calls. It is also providing access to both physical and mental health support to employees and their families and establishing a task force that connects each day to review the changing situation and the agency’s response.

“There is no doubt that we will have many challenges to face in the coming weeks and months. Challenges we can’t yet foresee,” said Dunn. “But we will meet these challenges head on, by working together, and by doing our part for the betterment of our communities and businesses, and society at large.”

Acknowledging that there is “currently no business as usual,” Lush is closing its 258 retail stores across Canada and the U.S. between March 16 and 29. Because its products are made fresh by hand, Lush said the closures will require it to “significantly scale down” its manufacturing and distribution operations.

“We are working through how we can best support our employee base through these changes, ensuring regular pay for all staff during this period,” said owners Karen and Mark Wolverton in a statement on the Lush home page.

An unintentional reminder of the importance of staying on top of automated marketing efforts came today from Toronto’s Assembly Chef’s Hall, which at 1:46 p.m. sent an e-mail blast promoting a St. Patrick’s Day event featuring a live band and DJ and a whisky sampling event.

Nearly an hour later, it sent a follow-up e-mail stating that its e-mail had been sent in error. “In the midst of COVID-19, we regrettably missed turning off this specific communication,” it said.

Canada’s major grocery banners had been conspicuously silent amid media reports of panic buying and hoarding, but that seemed to be changing on Monday.

Empire Company‘s Sobeys and Safeway Canada banners issued a Twitter statement from CEO Michael Medline saying that he has great confidence in Canada’s “incredibly robust grocery and food supply chain,” and noting that the company is working hard to ensure shelves are stocked amid “unprecedented” demand. Medline says that the company has never seen more customers visit its stores in its 113-year history. 

Vancouver agency 123w is making its employees work remotely, and president/CEO Scot Keith is urging any agency employee that is still being asked to come into the office to contact him. “If this is happening to you, then DM me and I will contact your CEO/president (confidentially on your behalf) to help change their minds,” said Keith in a LinkedIn post.

LVMH said it will produce hand sanitizer at three of its perfume factories for French hospitals free of charge. The French luxury goods company, famous for brands like Christian Dior, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and Moët & Chandon, will make up to 12 tons as early as this week.

Tomorrow was supposed to be the greatest day of the year for Irish beer brand Guinness. But with St. Patrick’s Day parades cancelled, pubs and bars either closed down or being avoided by many, the marketing team at Guinness-parent Diageo realized this March 17 was not going to be like any other. It moved quickly to produce this ad which acknowledges the extraordinary circumstances (without mentioning COVID-19), while calling on people to “raise each other up, be good to one another,” with a reminder that good times will return. “Don’t worry we’ll march again,” says the voiceover.

Jay Sethi, chief marketing officer for Diageo Beer Co., told AdAge they moved quickly using all historical footage to produce the ad with Philadelphia agency Quaker City Mercantile.

Toronto-area freelance creative Ibraheem Youssef is offering to pick-up groceries/medication for elderly or high risk/disabled people living in the city’s West Queen West area.

Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun produced a four-minute video speaking directly to all Publicis employees around the world, reminding everyone who can to work from home. He also addressed the economic impact. “Now more than ever we need to stay close to our clients and their business even if we can’t be with them in person.” This is not the first time Publicis Groupe has faced an economic crisis, he said. “And we will get through the storm like for all the other ones.”

Omnicom adopted a global work-from-home policy on Monday. But CEO John Wren also said they are seeing “marked improvements in China and Singapore with our teams starting to get back to business as usual.”

In an all-staff memo sent Saturday obtained by Campaign, WPP CEO Mark Read said that “wherever possible” employees should work from home. “The next few months will be tough, but I have every confidence in our ability to come through this situation together,” he said.

Rogers Communications is waiving long-distance charges for wireless and wireless home phone consumers and small businesses for calls anywhere in Canada until April 30. It is also waiving Roam Like Home and pay-per-use roaming fees in all countries where it offers roaming from March 16 to April 30. It has also pledged that services will not be suspended or disconnected for any customers experiencing financial difficulties over the next 19 days.

Bell and Telus are also waiving all extra usage fees for all residential internet customers until April 30, while Telus is waiving Easy Roam and pay-per-use roaming charges for postpaid mobility customers stranded outside of North American and unable to return to Canada.

HBC is reducing store hours effective today, staying open from 12-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12-5 p.m. on Sundays. It is also postponing all in-store customer events until May 15 and has extended its return period by 30 days.

Fashion retailer Aritzia is closing all of its more than 95 stores until further notice, effective today. “Our goal is to do our part for the global well-being. As we navigate this complex and challenging landscape, we feel this is the best decision for our people, our clients, our partners and our community as a whole,” said founder, CEO and chairman Brian Hill in a statement.

Nike is closing its retail locations in Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. The closures take effect today and last through at least March 27.

GoodLife Fitness is closing all of its GoodLife and Fit4Less locations, while suspending all member payments and freezing any paid-in-full memberships until further notice. The company said that it will re-open only when it is advised it is safe to do so, based on direction from local authorities. The company says it will pay all of its team members for the next two weeks to reduce the financial burden.

Maple Leaf Foods is allowing employees to work from home where possible, and creating work spaces that “maximize social distance” where it can. It is also eliminating in-person meetings, restricting visitors to its offices and sites, prohibiting business travel and asking employees returning from international travel to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

Starbucks is converting its more than 1,100 Canadian stores to a “to go” model, removing all seating for the next two weeks. “Your Starbucks experience may look different as we navigate through this time together,” said CEO Kevin Johnson in a letter to customers.

McDonald’s Canada is keeping its restaurants open but says it has increased the frequency of cleaning, with a particular focus on high-touch surfaces including door handles, kiosks, pin pads, counters, tables and washrooms. It has also temporarily closed its PlayPlaces and postponed its recently introduced Wednesday Family Night activities, and temporarily stopped accepting travel mugs from customers.

Burger King is keeping its nearly 300 Canadian restaurants open, but has stepped up cleaning efforts. The company says it is also meeting with food delivery services such as Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats and DoorDash to ensure they can handle increased delivery demand.

At least one brand is trying to lighten the mood during this otherwise dark and uncertain time. Last week Alberta’s Wise Guys Liquor was offering a free roll of Cashmere toilet paper with the purchase of every 24 pack of Corona. This weekend it was promoting a drink called the Quarantini (“It’s just a regular martini, but you drink it all alone in your house).

KFC has paused a U.K. campaign which showed people blissfully licking their fingers after eating the Colonel’s chicken, with reports noting that the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority received more than 160 complaints about the “Finger Licking Good” ads.





Chris Powell