Quarantine Branding: Now is the Time to Show You Really Care

dr. aybil göker
5 min readApr 5, 2020


Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash

This period of pandemic is demonstrating one striking sociobiological fact: We are tangled.

You’ll notice I didn’t say we are “united” or we are “one” as currently, we deserve neither the beauty of these concepts nor their stark uniformity.

The Tangled Tree

On a recent trip to Boston, I purchased a book from the Orlando Airport called The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen (2019). As a cultural anthropologist who always believed in the complexities of the human being, I was dazzled by Quammen’s book and inspired by its title!

The concept of being tangled was freeing and exciting. We are as mixed as our generations, genders, professions and dreams. We don’t fit into any one box.

Market researchers, though, have created phantom identities, entire phantom generations even labeled X, Y, and Z. We are obsessed with framing identities because it is easy and quick. It simplifies the way we identify ourselves and the way we react to others. It is easy to compartmentalize, but are we really that much detached from each other?

We are tangled creatures. But somehow… we’re not tangled to most marketers.

Brands are Currently Directionless

During this novel and rather frightening quarantine, my fellow researchers and I at Habitus Research have collected stories and tried to analyze every narrative from a social science perspective.

Some brand clients reached out to us seeking a meaningful report on the current lockdown period, anything more profound than toilet paper and general hoarding. Many are hovering over research papers, looking for ideas. Some keep so silent you wonder if they’re even registering what’s going on. Others deliver superficial messages to customers in mass email blasts that really, is anyone reading anymore?

And I am empathetic. Developing marketing strategies and new business plans during a pandemic with an unforeseen future is undoubtedly very hard.

But… let us pause a moment as we are quarantined. With life as tangled as it ever was and now entwined around something entirely new, we cannot insist on the existence of a previous reality, which was never really tangle-less in the first place.

Empathy is the Path Forward

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

The COVID-19 period is undoubtedly horrific, chaotic, unpredictable, scary, uncomfortable, and continually disturbing for millions of people around the world. But as an anthropologist working in the marketing industry, I see this period also as a gift to pause and reflect on every single taken-for-granted concept and to reset our black and white thinking.

All brands have aimed for love, loyalty, and stability — very human characteristics — in their marketing campaigns, yet many did not ever show a care for how their customers lived their lives, went through difficulties, or managed their emotions.

That will not do today, at this moment in time. It is the time to be more self-reflexive. It is the time to be upset for those who have died whom you never knew. It is a time for compassion, and it is a time for care.

In this moment, we must adopt and live the practice of empathy — very much an overused workshop concept in the marketing industry — for others and even ourselves.

Brands, Fortune 500 or not, shouldn’t be focused on tracking what people buy or consume — that shopping list may look dramatically different tomorrow. Nor should they be making big, bold predictions on how marketing will evolve — how can they know?

We will never forget this period; it will be internalized and become part of our bones until the day we die. It is a formative life experience not just for us personally, but for us collectively. Right now, this should be the only prediction that every single brand should know by heart.

Rather, brands need to show care, sensitivity, and grace for their people, employees, and those who buy their product.

We need to feel the care.

We applaud people who take care of our lives because in many ways we are totally, nakedly helpless. Or more accurately, we are totally, completely tangled. From the garbage collector to the supermarket cashier, from the emergency room doctor to the market seller in Wuhan, we care about each other. And we want companies to show they do too.

Anthropologist Brands Can Shine

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece encouraging brands to act like anthropologists. So what would an anthropologist brand do in a time of pandemic?

Listen. Listen deeply.

Don’t spend time and money on your net promoter score, short surveys, or superficially rushed strategies. Sincerely and deeply listening is the best way to get closer to your people. Bond with your customers, and perfect your empathy.

Once you have listened and have established a process to continue to listen, it’s time to be creative again. Being creative in these days of quarantine is essential; it is a must for existence and survival. Creativity will be a great gift at the end of a deep listening process.

As we as individuals bury ourselves in our couches and aim to be self-reflexive, so should we as business owners and marketing specialists. It will be painful, disturbing even, but it is fine. We have to deal with it!

It’s okay if the laundry is still there, and the meal is not correctly fixed. It’s ok if the business objectives we had and the ads we created are now completely tone-deaf and useless. We have emotions, and we are experiencing a feeling that most of us have never felt: that of profound helplessness. We should recognize that and use it.

Brands cannot afford to be silent. We in this helplessness cycle need to hear good stories, real ones, real feelings, we need positive vibes more than ever. So listen. Care. And share them.

If you do that, your company can not only survive this pandemic. You can thrive.

It is your turn to exist now. Put your heart down, and show us who you really want to be.

In short:

· Show you care, show your affection

· Remember, we are all tangled

· Deeply listen to people’s agonies and difficulties,

· Unpack the emotional responses you get back

· Be creative, but be responsible.

When we get out of this chaos, we will always remember what happened in these short months.

How do you want to be remembered?