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COVIDwashing: the Current Pandemic's Equivalent to Greenwashing
By Jill Rocco
May 12, 2020
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Covidwashing featured on WOMANBOSS
What resonated with consumers pre-pandemic has a totally different meaning now.

Imagine this… you wake up, check your socials and open your inbox. What a surprise to see a slew of emails from brands you don’t even remember buying from sharing with you their sentiments regarding COVID-19. A message of sincerity and togetherness followed by a discount code with guaranteed 2-day shipping… not hard to imagine, right? From TV commercials, social ads and branded e-mails, consumers have been flooded with numerous forms of covidwashing.

A term that quickly started trending on Twitter is the COVID-19 equivalent to “greenwashing;” the act of portraying an organization’s product or services as environmentally friendly only for the sake of marketing.  For example, a brand might eliminate the use of certain shipping materials to cut down on cost, but they advertise their new initiative as an effort to be more sustainable. This type of messaging may leave consumers to feel as if the brand has more self-interest than they do in showing a genuine care and commitment to their consumers and even employees. Each time we are bombarded with another ad makes it that much harder to feel the bona fide worry or sincere voice of the company.

It is quite clear that the last few months have drastically shifted the minds of consumers around the globe. Many industries are attempting to become more open and honest with consumers and have a more human-centered approach. These are not only unsettling times for consumers, but for brands large and small as well. J. Crew, True Religion and Neiman Marcus have filed for bankruptcy within the last two weeks. Loans and grants allocated to small businesses have run out of capital. As unsure as you may feel about your spending, companies all over the world are feeling that burden as well.

A recent survey unveiled that 44% of consumers would prefer to see ads that communicate service adjustments and updates. 24% of consumers want to see ads that explain what brands are doing to help, and 10% of consumers enjoy ads that acknowledge the underlying situation and express concern (Morning Consult). To put it simply, consumers wish to see that a brand is taking precaution during the pandemic, making moral business decisions and helping the front-line and/or others to the best of their ability.

Covidwashing featured on WOMANBOSS
Brand Management in the COVID-19 Era via Morning Consult

While we may all have a different Coronavirus situation, there are things we can do now, and in the future to make more mindful decisions. Take some time to think about what matters most to you. What values do you hold close to your heart? Try to find a brand that’s mission aligns with those values. You may be surprised what you find, and how your purchase, be it large or small can lead to an impact down the line.

How about supporting local businesses in your community? There are also some smaller businesses with incredibly unique missions that are waiting to be discovered! Sometimes when we see media alerts about large corporations having to scale down or change their practices to adapt, we forget about small-scale companies or start-ups that are facing the same economic hardships. Founders having to lay off staff and take on the job of 3-4 workers, or brands having to push back product launches they worked on for months, if not years on end.

Times like these can really show us how to appreciate the act of spending where it matters. It’s hard to imagine that we can make a difference from one purchase, but that could be all the difference for a brand and its employees. A company that donates 20% of profits to a homeless shelter may be able to house one more person. Your specific purchase can lead to beating a sales goal resulting in a company not having to go through layoffs. This type of shopping does not have to stop when the pandemic is over. Shopping where it matters, and spending where it counts can help create a sustainable and better future for all. We can all work together at home, to make sure we are coming out of this unprecedented time stronger and more unified than ever before.

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