Adapting in a crisis: 3 lessons from the FMCG industry

FMCG brands have weathered the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic better than many other sectors, with the industry seen as a relative ‘safe-haven’, driven in part by increased purchasing of essential household and hygiene products as result of the pandemic. In research published by the Global Web Index, the top three categories in which consumers had increased their online shopping for included food & grocery products (+33%), household essentials (+29%) and personal care (+27%). As supermarkets remain open for business as essential services in most countries, we have seen FMCG brands react swiftly and effectively to the current crisis.


Here are three key lessons that can be taken from the FMCG sector’s crisis response:

Lesson 1: Understand consumer sentiment

As borders closed and lockdown measures were put in place, grocery and FMCG brands were faced with global stockpiling taking place of everything from pasta to toilet paper. Recognizing that this behavior stemmed from uncertainty in supply chain processes, supermarkets and FMCG brands worked together to promote ‘open for business’ messaging, inspiring confidence in their ability to mainstock levels and supply chain processes. In doing this, brands were able to alleviate the strain on their businesses that was caused by panic buying while providing customers with peace of mind that they could continue shopping as normal.

Consumer sentiment should be an important consideration for your brand at the best of times, but in a crisis it needs to be pivotal to your marketing and communications planning. When the impacts of COVID-19 begin to ease and we enter a ‘new normal’, brands will – for better or worse – be remembered for how they acted during the height of the crisis. Taking the steps now to understand and address your consumers thoughts and feelings, adding value or offering solutions where you can, will provide both short- and long-term benefits for your brand.

Lesson 2: Make yourself useful

Now is not the time to stick to the marketing plan you put together months ago. With consumer and market influences changing daily, businesses must consider what they need to change today to stay relevant tomorrow. Research from the American Association of Advertising Agencies indicated consumers are still wanting to hear from brands during this time, however the types of messaging they wanted to hear was changing. The topic consumers most wanted to hear about was how brands are helping their communities – such as donating money/products or providing support to their employees.

Brands must consider where they can genuinely add value during this time, and that may not be possible through their usual business activities. FMCG brands across the globe are pivoting their businesses to provide relief and support where it is most needed. P&G have started producing hand sanitizer at five of their sites to donate to hospitals and relief organizations, while Unilever are working with the UK government, producing a handwashing campaign to tackle the spread of coronavirus. In these unprecedented times, change is the only constant and brands must ensure they continue to evolve and react, so they can to provide relevant and useful experiences for their customers.

Lesson 3: Be a role model

In times of crisis, consumers often look to brands for guidance and direction, and larger brands such as FMCGs tend to bear a greater responsibility to act as role models within their communities. This sense of social responsibility should permeate all brand touchpoints, from ensuring consumers can safely shop your products in-store or online, to re-editing imagery that promotes group gatherings or physical contact in a time when social distancing is encouraged. Waitrose & Partners reacted swiftly to the issue of social spacing, installing floor decals to demonstrate safe social distancing within their retail stores, while Coles and Woolworths supermarkets in Australia extended their opening hours allowing elderly and at-risk shoppers the opportunity to shop in a safer environment.

Brands shouldn’t be afraid to be candid about their challenges either. The challenges presented by COVID-19 are new for businesses and consumers alike, and your customers will understand and appreciate that your business is adapting on the fly. In a time where social distancing is the new norm, people are craving connection and responding positively to brands who are communicating authentically, and brands should take this opportunity to foster closer relationships with their customers. Employee generated content can humanize your brand – people connect with people, and with larger-scale marketing campaigns likely on hold, now is the time to tap into your strongest brand advocates.


Tag is continuing to partner with our FMCG clients during these challenging times, enabling them to pivot and adapt their marketing campaigns at speed. To date, we have:

  • Helped our clients to edit content in a remote live environment to create new messaging that is more relevant for consumers
  • Re-edited assets to remove socializing elements (such as crowds and parties) to be more sensitive to customer sentiment
  • Repurposed existing assets with new messaging to remove the need for new shoots to ensure brands continue to create dialogue with customers without breaching social distancing laws.


Get in touch today to find out how Tag can support your international adaptation needs.