Empathy in action: brands excelling in empathy during the COVID-19 pandemic - The Social Element
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Empathy in action: brands excelling in empathy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Both as individuals and society as a whole, we’re facing a crisis on a scale that we’ve not seen for generations.

Businesses are feeling the effects of this, and they’ll continue to do so. Yet, it’s crucial that brands do whatever they can to offer practical support and kindness to people during this time.

At The Social Element and Polpeo, we often say that the right words, delivered in the right tone, are important during a crisis, but that the brand’s actions give them their full meaning. Businesses may be stretched to their limits right now, but action is more important than ever.

In this post, we want to showcase some examples of brands being kind and taking empathetic action in this crisis.

It isn’t about brands shoring up goodwill for the future; it’s about doing whatever you can for society. It’s about being inspirational leaders in a time when people need help, and to see good things happening in the world. 

So, how are brands helping tackle the COVID-19 pandemic?

Shifting production and services to support health services and charities

  • French luxury goods group, LVMH (which owns many brands including Christian Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton), announced that it would start using its perfume and cosmetic production lines to produce hand sanitizer gel. LVMH will deliver them to French hospitals for free.
  • In the UK, independent brewer, BrewDog, has started making hand sanitizer in its Aberdeenshire distillery. It announced that it would be giving them away to charities and anyone in the community who needs them.
  • Liquor company, Pernod Ricard USA (makers of alcohol brands like Absolut Vodka) said it would switch all of its production sites to make hand sanitizer. It will work with the US government on distribution.
  • Premier Inn hotels are, of course, experiencing issues with cancellations. But, in place of guests, the hotel group is giving its space to local hospitals for them to use if the need arises.
  • In Spain, Inditex (which owns fashion chain, Zara) has seen many of its retail stores close due to the virus. It has offered to use its textile factories to manufacture scrubs for Spanish hospitals (thanks to Rosa Riera for sharing this example).
  • Italian organisation, the Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems (ISINNOVA), is working with  French company, Decathlon to create low-cost ventilators. ISINNOVA is using 3D printing to make valves to attach to Easybreath snorkeling masks, which mean that the masks can be used as ventilator masks by hospitals.
  • In the U.S., Ford is working with 3M and GE Healthcare to make respirators and ventilators, which are in short supply. They are in discussion with federal, state and local officials to understand exactly what’s needed and where.
  • Some local restaurants are also doing their bit for the NHS. For example, Sylhet Spice Cuisine (in Birmingham, UK) are offering free takeaway meals to NHS staff in the B14 postcode.
  • UK bed and mattress company, Eve Sleep, has been working with its suppliers to donate beds to staff in hospitals in nearby areas.
  • Vacuum cleaner and gardening machine manufacturer, Gtech, switched production to ventilators and presented a prototype to the UK government in late March.
  • Italian sports car maker, Lamborghini, is shifting production from cars to surgical masks and medical shields. 
  • MSC cruise delivered to a hospital ship to Genoa
  • ITT4 has decided to share it’s technical and scientific knowledge to help with the battle against COVID-19

Ensuring vulnerable people get the food they need

  • Morrisons changed its brand purpose to “feed the nation”. It announced that it was setting up a customer call centre for shoppers who don’t do online shopping, allowing these customers to shop over the phone. It’s also setting up a hardship fund for its employees, partnering with Amazon to expand home delivery, guaranteeing fast payment to suppliers and planning to hire 3500 new staff to cope with increased demand. Morrison’s is launching ‘food parcels’ which will be an easy way for people to order everything they need.
  • Sainsbury’s introduced a shopping hour dedicated to the elderly and vulnerable only. The supermarket said that it would stay open for one-hour longer as a result. It’s also prioritising the elderly and vulnerable for booking online delivery slots and shutting down fresh food counters to reallocate staff to keeping the shelves full.
  • Tesco announced that some larger stores would have extended opening hours, while 24-hour stores would work to normal hours so that staff had a chance to restock shelves. In an email to customers, and on social media, it also said that it was expanding click and collect so that it could prioritise deliveries to the elderly and those who are self-isolating. It’s also dedicating 9 to 10am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to in-store shopping for elderly and vulnerable customers.
  • Just-Eat and Deliveroo are both in talks with the UK government to help deliver care packages and food to vulnerable people, those self-isolating and people living in remote areas.
  • As people have been advised to stay away from restaurants, some establishments are introducing delivery services for the first time. While some will set themselves up on delivery apps, others are using their staff to deliver the food – ensuring that people who are self-isolating are fed and helping people keep their jobs.
  • Some cafes and restaurants in America are offering free children’s menus. Many families will be struggling to feed their children while school is out, so these services are vital. Meanwhile, in the UK, charities started making preparations to feed children weeks before schools were shut down. 
  • In America, Chef José Andrés has turned his restaurants into community kitchens and will feed families who can’t pay for meals.

Keeping people connected, productive and healthy

  • LinkedIn made 16 of its courses free. It’s also giving people advice on how to stay productive, and how virtual teams can collaborate.
  • Among other things, Google made Hangouts Meet free for its G-Suite members to help larger remote teams keep in touch.
  • In the UK, mental health platform, Unmind, is giving all NHS staff free access throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Webmart are re-purposing laptops for low income households so their children can do schoolwork at home
  • Meditation and sleep app, Calm, has made some content free for people to help support their mental health during the crisis (thanks to Claire Panter for the tip).
  • Footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs are allowing NHS workers to stay at their hotels for free. They co-own Hotel Football and The Stock Exchange in Manchester, England. These hotel rooms are vital for members of NHS staff who cannot stay with their families during the pandemic (thank you, Anne McNamara for sharing this story).
  • KCKD is offering free open coach sessions to students, parents and educators. They’ve designed the sessions to support GCSE and A-Level students through the stress and uncertainty they’re going through. (Thanks to Katie Atkinson for the tip.)
  • US luxury fashion retailer, Olivela, already supports charities. It’s also helping families during the Coronavirus crisis. Olivela is giving 20% of proceeds on various items to Save the Children, to help the charity feed vulnerable and hard-to-reach children during the pandemic.
  • Fashion brands are finding creative ways to fight COVID-19 and producing facemasks 

Helping Employees and contract workers

  • In America, Starbucks is extending its employee mental health programme for employees and their family members. They’ll be able to get up to 20 sessions a year from a mental health therapist’s online platform.
  • American company Darden Restaurants (owner of Olive Garden) is extending paid sick leave to hourly workers.
  • Microsoft will pay its hourly workers their usual income, despite them having to work fewer hours after permanent staff were told to work from home.
  • In Germany, Aldi Sud, Aldi Nord and McDonalds have partnered to redeploy interested McDonalds staff to work for the supermarket chain on a temporary basis; this keeps people in paid work, while shifting manpower to the most crucial sectors during the pandemic (thanks to Rosa Riera for sharing this example).

These are just some of the ways that brands are giving back to society during the COVID-19 pandemic. I know how important it is to share good news at the moment, so The Social Element team will update this blog with more examples as and when we find them.

Have you seen a great example of a big brand, or small business, helping people through the crisis? Let us know and we’ll add it to the list.

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