What #TheGreatAmericanTakeout Can Teach Us About Marketing During a Crisis

While most companies have been thrown into a tailspin this past month, the foodservice industry in particular has been severely impacted by the coronavirus lockdown. With dining areas shut down indefinitely as public gatherings continue to pose a health risk to customers, restaurants and QSRs are limited to takeout and delivery services only.

Still, many quarantined consumers are anxious about exposing themselves to employees, and there is a lot of confusion about the safety of eating food or interacting with surfaces that COVID-19 carriers could have touched. As a result of this caution, carry-out sales have not been enough to sustain some businesses.

In an effort to stimulate orders and encourage people to support their local restaurants, many leaders in the industry took to social media to promote a national day of ordering out on March 24th with the hashtag #TheGreatAmericanTakeout.

Citing data from the CDC that indicates that there is “little evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from food or packaging,” the coalition of brands that kickstarted the campaign include California Pizza Kitchen, Chevys Fresh Mex, El Torito, Panera Bread, Modern Market, and Noodles & Company.

When an entire industry is in crisis like this, it makes sense to take a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach to marketing. By combining forces to project a unified message that benefits all participants (even if not equally), brands have an opportunity to amplify their voices and reach a much larger market during a pivotal time.

This type of group promotional campaign has long been the norm in the hospitality industry, as many tourism brands will partner for destination branding projects. We’ve even seen large consumer brands teaming up for expensive marketing campaigns in order to share costs, such as when Bud Light and HBO joined forces to buy ad space during the 2019 Super Bowl.

Another important element of the Great American Takeout campaign is that it really shows the human side of the crisis, presenting the affected parties as members of the community instead of faceless businesses. By taking an industry-wide issue and making it personal, restaurants are able to be heard on social media despite the explosion of stories about how life is changing during the pandemic. With so many people affected across so many industries, the fact that this campaign could successfully gain traction is a real accomplishment.

Going forward, brand leaders are going to be looking for ways to use the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic to prepare for future crises. The Great American Takeout demonstrates that by embracing collaboration instead of a “winner takes all” strategy and by focusing on the vulnerable employees who are most affected by the loss of business, companies can launch successful campaigns under even the most difficult conditions.

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