• Georgia Hatton

Corona-copy: 4 reminders when writing in a crisis

By Lucy Harrison, Creative Copywriter at Bristol-based creative healthcare agency, Create Health.

It can’t have escaped your notice that these are, indeed, unprecedented times.

Brands, businesses and whole industries are being changed, stopped and challenged in ways that we could never have anticipated months ago.

And while many brands are changing tack and trying to find their window of opportunity, others are facing a crisis of copy. 

How should we write during such a scary, ever-evolving pandemic that is affecting people in a multitude of ways? 

Here are four things to remember before you put pen to paper.

Know when to be quiet

Before you ask yourself what to write, it’s worth first asking yourself ‘should I write at all?’

It’s tempting to try and beat COVID-19 by throwing the full weight of the marketing team behind it. But for some, pushing out lots of communications right now is unwise. 

Picture this. Your travel provider isn’t picking up the phone again. Not only are you missing your holiday, you’re missing a refund. Plus you’ve been furloughed, so you’re being paid less, and your bills have gone through the roof.

An email hits your inbox! Is it about your refund? No – they’re asking you to ‘pick your dream destination’ for your next holiday…  

During such fraught circumstances, brands stand to seem tone-deaf at best, and plain greedy and immoral at worst. And when COVID-19 is gone, the way your brand conducted itself will be remembered. 

So if you can’t do good, at least do quiet. 

One brand to totally suspend marketing activity is Coors Light in the US. I think it’s a bold move – they stand to gain from the pandemic. People are consuming up to a third more alcohol at home.

But perhaps Coors took a hard look at themselves and asked ‘do we need to add to the noise? Do we want to fuel over-consumption in a vulnerable time?’ Who knows, but either way I salute them for it.

Stay true

We absolutely do need to watch our tone more than usual and approach the topic of coronavirus with some caution. It is easier than ever to sound insensitive or trivialising.

But now is not the time to set your tone of voice guide alight, either. We must sanitise our hands, less so our language – keep that brand personality.

Take Channel 4. Cheeky irreverence is their thing. It would be weird if they went all austere Sky News on us, wouldn’t it? 

Thankfully, they didn’t. Instead they raised a much-needed smile with “Important Safety Information for your Arse.”

Why does their copy work?

  • It’s funny! Even in the midst of a pandemic we can joke – there’s enough doom and gloom as it is 

  • It fuses their tongue in cheek humour with genuine safety guidance – copy with a purpose

  • With its quintessentially British tone, it will appeal to our sense of ‘pulling together as a nation’

  • It doesn’t scare-monger, patronise or over-dramatise.

Look for the sunshine

Quite early on in the pandemic, there was so much fear and negativity that it felt a bit suffocating.

Create Health, decided to start a social campaign sharing only good news stories. Not to hide in ignorance of the current situation – but to recognise that just because bad things are happening, doesn’t mean good things stop happening. And the response has been awesome.

I also love the writing and insight behind TikTok’s A Little Brighter Inside campaign. 

It’s a sunny little number that celebrates the unbreakable human drive to create. It positions TikTok as a virtual ‘place’ where everyone is united, living out their daydreams and adventures through play.

Dare you to watch it and not smile!

Stop parroting!

If I have to read one more characterless ‘we’re here for you in these unprecedented times’ email…

Just as being cautious doesn’t mean abandoning your tone of voice, nor does it mean repeating the safe phrases every other brand is using.

At this point, playing Corona-bingo with your copy simply signifies to your reader that it’s something they’ve read a handful of times before and can stop reading.

To stop them mentally switching off, and your marketing spend going to waste – say it with style! A subtle switch-up from what people are expecting can have attention-grabbing results.

King of words, Scrabble, released a brilliant series of copy-led ads to promote the board game while encouraging people to stay safe at home.

They took some negative COVID-19 related words we’re all hearing a lot of – for example, furlough and quarantined – and turned them on their head. When spelled out in Scrabble tiles, those words are suddenly desirable. 

So there we have it. 

For some perspective, I think that brand marketing communications are absolutely not important to the average person right now – and though I hate to say it, perhaps they never are. 

But more than ever, your brand simply cannot afford to get it horribly wrong or be ignored. And if you can make a few people smile, laugh, or feel a tiny bit better in the process, that’s got to be worth something.

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