top of page

What marketers can learn from how brands in China responded to Coronavirus

What you can learn from how Brands in China Responded to Coronavirus

What’s the right thing to do or say in a situation that has spiraled far beyond the realm of anyone’s wildest imagination? 

The social media content you had planned for the next week, month, quarter — probably going to have to scrap or rewrite most of it. There isn’t a playbook for this type of phenomenon, and I’d go as far to say there’s no right answers either.

But for brands in the US, Europe, South America looking for any reference on how to handle the situation from a communications perspective — you do have the luxury to look at how brands in China began to respond nearly two months ago and through the course of the virus’ spread. 

What we know from watching online behavior over the past few months: Discovery is up 

People will be spending more time on social media, and not in the usual way where they’re trying to catch up on all the accounts currently followed as quickly as possible…

People have time, they’re looking to be entertained with new, interesting content. It’s a great time to discover new brands! 

Use this time wisely — don’t be pushing sales, push content that is interesting, useful, entertaining. 

This will pass, and when it does people will remember the brands that made them feel better, inspired them, and the ones that took action. 

So above all, do not remain silent. 

The following are examples my team and I have been gathering for the past two months from both global and domestic Chinese brands on WeChat, as well as some great examples the past few days of Western brands on Instagram. 

We’ve arranged brands into three categories:

Brands with little to no offline activity, but still affected

Offline business is affected, but it can be transferred to online engagement

Offline business is affected, and it is very difficult to switch to online business in a short term

DTC brand with little to no offline activity, but still affected 

Provide basic ways to take care of yourself & stay healthy 

Lalu Raw Beauty 

Natural skincare brand LALU acted quickly by providing several DIY recipes for at home skin masks and body scrubs. 

It’s important to stay conscious of what your consumers may have access to, some may be unable to leave their home, and have limited access to ordering supplies. LALU makes it easy to re-create the recipe with minimal, commonly used ingredients. 

As a natural beauty brand, it commits to being sweet and considerate at ANY time.


Sustainable lifestyle brand Boomí acknowledged their customer’s increased time spent at home, so they provided information on how to make that time more productive and stay healthy, both physically and mentally with the best house plants for your health. 

The brand published practical advice and executable information. 

The article focused on simple details — at a time when people are suffering, worried and panicked, focusing on small “tips & steps” will be very helpful.

Focus on providing exceptional content 

French Dragon 

Handmade ceramics brand, French Dragon, recently launched their WeChat account in Q4 of 2019 — as a relatively new brand, the daunting climate posed a big challenge for the brand’s survival, but they managed to thrive in the past three months, growing followers and doubling read rates from previous months. 

French Dragon focused on providing beautiful, touching content — they acknowledged their customer’s situation, but did not dwell on the negatives, nor pushing product, instead they provided a magical escape into the French Dragon world, even publishing a behind-the-scenes piece.  

Carefully curated layouts combined with useful tips gave the account an increase in high quality followers, with little to no unfollows each month.  

Offline business is affected, but it can be transferred to online engagement

Acknowledge the situation & how you’re coping with it 


Starbucks released this WeChat post on Jan. 23 as a response to the escalation of the spread of the virus

They acted very quickly, when all the other brands are still trying figure out if they should stick with their original plan, say nothing, or what/how to say something at all.

All the details in the content reflect the seriousness of the situation, while staying on-brand.

The post details the measures being taken by Starbucks during this time; 

  • Regular disinfection & frequent hand washing

  • Take & record temperatures of staff before going on duty

  • Emergency deployment of masks

  • Closure all the shops in Wuhan immediately

  • Thanking all the employees and showing appreciation for the trust of all the customers.

  • Reiterating that staying healthy & safe is the most important thing

Currently, Starbucks now offers a “no touch” delivery service. In Shanghai for example, people can simply order the products online at home or in the office and within 15-20 min, they can go downstairs to pick up their hot coffee left at the front door without physically contact with anybody. 

Pledge your Support / Give ways for people to support 


KFC WeChat account released this post on Feb.7. They announced that their parent firm, Yum China has donated 5 million RMB especially for the front-line medical workers in Wuhan Tongji Hospital ( 1000 RMB per person).

Other measures the brand has taken; 

  • Since Jan.27, KFC has offered over 10 thousand free meals to Wuhan medical workers. 

  • Over 20 thousand free meals have been delivered to 130 hospitals in 22 provinces.

  • They started “No Contact Delivery Service” in Wuhan on Feb.2.

Use nostalgia & humor for great storytelling  


McDonalds held an activity called “217, Love Together" to promote a 50% off discount on their Apple Pie during a limited time 

Apple in Chinese is “Ping Guo”, which sounds similar to “Ping An”(Be safe). McDonalds used posters to convey love & safety.

Translations from some of the posters:

“Hey kitten, do you miss McDonald’s? Just call the delivering service, I will have the apple pie, and you will have the paper bag!” —— Pointing to the fact that McDonald’s Delivering Service is still available

“Hey Noodles, wish you get better soon!” —— A conversation between food. The noodle dish represents Wuhan, which famous for a type of noodles.

"Hey Wuhan netizens waiting for the cherry blossoms, we all keep thinking about your safety!”—— Everybody is hoping the virus is gone by the cherry blossom season.

Harbin Beer 

This form of advertising brings goes back to the 1960s or 1970s. Many companies have used this visual style in different campaigns, but it is still popular, especially when the content is relevant to the majority of the population in China.

[*Remember* - China is a massive country with completely different audiences in each region]

There's a sense of humor behind using this format to go back in time in order to look to the future.

'Happy Together in the Future' is the brand’s key slogan in this campaign. 

We see many brands turning to embrace the coming of Spring as a time to look forward to new beginnings, return to normalcy and good times. 

Translation from some of the posters: 

@All workers

'If you come back to work with the virus, there is no salary for sure! Protect yourself, and we will be happy together in the future'

@Boys and girls 

Don’t go the pub right now. Or your conscience will be condemned and your behavior will be in the headlines.


Let’s date online for romance, instead of dating offline for risk.


Be proud of staying at home. We are saving a lot of breathing masks for our country!

Adjust your offering 


Known for their lush workout gear, Lululemon switched gears and focused an entire post on home workout equipment. Acknowledging the facts that a) you’re not likely be going out and need new workout gear to show off and b) looking to keep yourself fit at home with no access to the gym.  

What products can you start to sell or highlight, even if they’re not your typical offering?

Give people something to do 

Under Armour 

The post encourages followers that exercise is the best defense, and Under Armour calls on YOU to exercise at home. 

You're given four days worth of workouts 

For each day you're given a series of simple movements that can be done at home with little or no equipment 

Each movement is accompanied by an easy-to-follow gif with a short explanation.

Offline business is affected, and it is very difficult to switch to online business in the short term 

Build online community & provide ways for people to connect 


Even though the tourism industry, which has been hit very hard by the outbreak, Airbnb chose to spread positive energy instead of complaining.

They published this WeChat article on Feb.13, becoming an observer, to report and share true feelings and actions that are happening in the industry.

While landlords are facing a huge loss due to a drop in bookings, their attitudes and behaviors show understanding, support and care.

They help costumers to cancel the booking without charging any extra fee.

They offer their empty houses to doctors and nurses or whoever needs a place to stay in for free.

They do their best to gather medical resources to donate to the front line.

They send their love to the entire community no matter where you are.

By reading these real moments and stories, people can feel Airbnb still maintains the feeling of ‘we are all under the same roof,' which is of course the key message of this brand as always.

One Way Street Library

“If the epidemic cannot end soon, most independent bookstores will disappear.” 

On Feb. 24, Mr. Xu, a writer and partner of One Way Street bookstore, an iconic independent bookstore in Beijing, asked for help online.

Soon after, on March 9, this brand released a WeChat post on their Official Account to start a campaign called "Defending Independent Bookstores.” They united 6 independent bookstores and a popular live-streaming host, Viya, together to sell books & VIP memberships online through live-streaming — talking about how to protect the spirit of reading during this time period.

For a traditionally offline bookstore, it is not easy to make decision to embracing new things such as a live-streaming show, unless they have no choice.

This is a sink or swim situation. 

Based on the research of nearly 1,000 offline bookstores in China, 37% said they would last only one month, while 42% said they would last three months**.

“Let the voices connect.” 

They finally made a wish and it seems worked. A total of 145,000 viewers were attracted to the live-streaming show, and nearly 8,000 copies of bookstore packages were sold with sales surpassing 700,000 RMB (USD 98,000) on that day.

Collaborate together with other brands 

Shanghai Hang Lung Plaza 

An "unattended area" popped up at the entrances to office towers one and two in Shanghai Hang Lung Plaza.

There is a takeaway cabinet, an unmanned insulated cabinet and a mobile dining car with hot drinks, such as HEYTEA, Lady M, LeTAO etc. And It says “For Free.”

This area has been created by the Plaza, give people around a chance to buy some food for public service personnels, such like deliver guys, sanitation workers, policemen and so on, who contribute a lot for this city during the epidemic.

People around, not only office workers, but also residents and mall workers, bring home-made lunch boxes or buy fresh food from the grocery store and put them in the cabinet with encouraging notes.

These scenes make people feel warm, and make people who live in Shanghai feel proud, and of course create a good reputation for the Hang Lung Plaza.

Share resources

Fresh Hema and Xibei 

The outbreak of coronavirus caused a great impact on all walks of life.

During Chinese New Year when the outbreak happened, restaurants in China almost all closed. Take Xibei restaurant for example, as one of the most famous and successful business here, they are facing 700-800 million RMB loss and more than 20,000 employees cannot go back to work as normal. The enterprise would survive only for the next three months as things were going. 

At a time when restaurant workers were likely to lose their jobs if they stayed at home, online orders were surging and they were understaffed. On February 3rd, Hema Fresh launched an initiative on social media to "Share Employees.”

Nearly 2,000 employees from more than 30 catering enterprises have been sent to work with Hema.

This move solves the unemployment problem for dine-in restaurants, the labor shortage for Hema and is a great CSR case for Hema — three birds, one stone.  

Bring the brand feeling to your own home 

Pain Chaud 

Shanghai bakery chain, Pain Chaud remained closed for most of February and beginning of March. A relatively small, neighbored bakery, the chain relies on visitors to their cozy cafes. 

To engage their audience during this time they posted a cute little recipe of one of their popular pastries for people to make and enjoy at home during this time. 

The article had a sentimental, heart-warming feel and at the end asked readers to share photos of their home-made dessert. 

When in doubt… ask

Point blank ask your community what they want to hear from you

While not related to the crisis, Allbirds recently asked their WeChat following what type of content they hope to see from them in the coming year by inserting a simple poll in a WeChat post. 

AWAY, luggage and travel accessories brand asked their community what type of content they wanted to receive via Instagram story. 

Don’t be afraid to ask your community what they want from you, and then provide it! It’s both short-term engagement and can steer your long-term strategy. 

To conclude...

In short, these are constantly evolving times, and no one really has the perfect answer. But after observing brands in China for the past two months, and now brands in the rest of the world, we can suggest following these guidelines: 

Don’t disappear — People will remember the brands that showed up in hard times and you’ll win in the long run 

Keep the tone of your brand — You don’t need to become a news outlet, make sure all content still follows the same key messaging of your brand

Show care and understanding of the current situation

See what you can do to help followers, families, hospitals, your industry, your country and so on

Share true feeling and real stories

Make use of online resources as best as you can

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help

Collaborate with other brands — we’re stronger together 

11 views0 comments


bottom of page