Brand Strategy Coronavirus FT

The Drum and FT reveal nominees for Brand Investment Award celebrating best brand-builders


By The Drum Team, Editorial

May 19, 2020 | 21 min read

The Drum has teamed up with the FT to recognise the value of long-term strategy and creativity, which have become more important than ever in these testing times.

The Drum's Brand Investment Award, sponsored by the FT, recognises the best examples of long-term thinking, creativity and execution amongst brands.

However, given the exceptional events of the last few months, we also need to take into account how the nominees have dealt with the recent Covid-19 emergency, and so we are spotlighting brands that have been able to navigate the current crisis thanks to leveraging the equity they have already amassed.

Following nominations from our readers, we can now reveal the shortlist of brands spanning luxury, retail, consumer and B2B categories – who have been nominated for the award this year.

They will be judged by the 2020 jury from The Drum Marketing Awards and the overall winner will not only receive the FT Award, but will also be invited to discuss their strategy during The Drum's upcoming Can-Do Festival in June.

Here are this year's nominees:

burberry logos


In luxury, ubiquity will kill you—it means you’re not really luxury anymore. And Burberry was becoming ubiquitous - selling everything from trench coats to kilts to dog cover-ups and leashes. And then it bought in Angela Ahrendts as its CEO in 2006 (she left in 2014). The result was that it reinforced its heritage, its Britishness, by emphasising and growing its core luxury products. The decision to focus on its heritage opened up a wealth of creativity, and the designers and marketers all worked on to reinforce the idea that everything Burberry did—from its runway shows to its stores—should start with the ethos of the trench. It also began to shift its marketing efforts from targeting everyone, everywhere, to focusing on the luxury customers of the future. It then started rethinking its entire marketing approach for these customers of the future - to make it digital.

Burberry sites are now designed to speak to that consumer through emotive brand content: music, movies, heritage, storytelling. Burberry enhances customers’ experience of the brand in its offline platforms with integrated digital technologies, e.g. all Burberry stores have plasma screen video walls with touchscreen technology, allowing customers to scroll through products and outfits instore.

The brand has also greatly capitalised on Chinese luxury market growth. In 2019, it unveiled an exclusive partnership with Chinese tech business Tencent to develop social retail in China. The move was part of Burberry’s wider “social-first” strategy, which recognises how social media is becoming a vital part of the luxury customer journey.

Earlier this year, the 164-year-old brand announced a strategy focusing on China. However, with Covid19, the premium fashion brand switched from producing trench coats to medical-grade garments at its Yorkshire factory in order to lend a helping hand in the fight for more PPE for medical workers. So far, it has donated more than 100,000 pieces of PPE in the UK. It has also set up the Burberry Foundation Covid-19 Community Fund so it cannot only extend its PPE support, but can also put money into food banks. Additionally, the Burberry board of directors (including CEO Marco Gobbetti) are taking a 20% pay cut for May and June, with their money going directly to the fund. And it has refused to furlough staff, something other fashion brands have done, and is still paying them a full wage. These steps have been promoted online and on social media and received an overwhelmingly positive response.


Chances are when you think of Guinness you don’t just imagine a frothy pint, but also some pretty iconic advertising. Whether it’s the surfer or a man at a pub in the 1990s comically dancing in anticipation of a pint, Diageo’s beer brand has long established itself as a creator of truly memorable cinematic campaigns. However, over recent years, the brand has shifted its storytelling, embedding its campaigns more in the every day.

The ‘Made of More’ advert series, created by AMV BBDO, featured real-life stories, including ex-gang members in Los Angeles who turned their lives around by adopting horses and becoming cowboys, and a visual style that was a lot more documentary-like than the more fantastical marketing Guinness was famous for. It’s backed this up with more experiential events too, with the beer brand’s various pop-up music and food festivals successfully targeting a younger audience while maintaining links to its historic past.

Guinness’ response to coronavirus has shown it can be reactive and is capable of being contextually relevant beyond big cinematic splashes. St Patrick’s Day (Wednesday 17 March) was one of the events negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, so Guinness embraced this problem by encouraging its drinkers to enjoy the celebration at home in a safer setting. A video campaign had a hopeful message of “don’t worry, we’ll march again”, asking drinkers to stay at home.

In the US market, Guinness committed $500,000 to supporting communities disrupted by the coronavirus with the Guinness Give Back fund. This was a strong way of encouraging people to stay at home at a time where other alcohol brands were silent. It has also utilised its community, using Dublin-based artist Luke O’Reilly’s artwork, which depicts a pint of Guinness topped by a white sofa with the message ‘Stay at home’, on its Instagram page. These efforts have shown the brand has a social conscience and should result in positive brand sentiment that carries over long after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.


When Adobe ended sales of boxed software back in 2011, some analysts questioned if its CEO Shantanu Narayen had gone too far. But the gamble paid off – its monthly subscription model Creative Cloud has helped to consistently boost sales throughout the 2010s, successfully tapping into the shift of more users using popular Adobe software like Photoshop on their mobile devices.

In its fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, Adobe achieved record quarterly revenue of $2.99bn, which represents 21% year-over-year growth. In fiscal year 2019, Adobe achieved record annual revenue of $11.17bn, which represents 24% year-over-year growth. These impressive numbers were the legacy of Adobe’s move away from physical products to a cloud-based system, where it could get closer to its users and learn more about the way they use its products, increasing personalisation and tailoring its communications in the process. “We try to make sense of millions and millions of customers, and treat them as if they were one,” Adobe’s SVP of go-to-market and sales Rob Giglio has said publicly.

Its response to Covid-19 has shown Adobe has a hunger to invest these sizable revenues into its community and safeguard it as much as possible.

For one, Adobe made temporary at-home access to Creative Cloud available until May 31, 2020 for schools and colleges who currently have only lab access for students, at no additional cost. It did this after asking its community on Twitter what they would like to see Adobe do to support people negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

With the worldwide freelance creative community at risk of not meeting government support and facing an uncertain financial future, Adobe also opened up its annual ‘Creative Residency’ Community Fund (totaling $1m, which would be made up of grants from $500 - $5,000) globally so anyone could apply.

The fund has also been changed so it doesn’t just reward two creatives, like it normally does, but rather a much larger number of applications, with all those who are successful also getting free access to Adobe’s software. It is a good example of taking a regular program and opening it up, so it helps more people in the wake of the pandemic. Adobe has shown it can be flexible when it comes to taking action, empowering its community to continue working with its software, even if they’re struggling financially.


2020 has not been an easy start for the world’s leading luxury products group – it saw store closures, like all other businesses across the world, but it hurt especially because of its reliance on the Chinese market.

The Covid-19 crisis prompted LVMH to trim its 2019 dividend by one-third and cut executive pay. It is also seeking to renegotiate rents for its shuttered stores, and is cutting costs on staff, fashion shows, and travel.

The business has been breaking new ground in the last few years, in an attempt to build long lasting legacy. Last year, LVMH announced singer Rihanna will become part of the brand - the first woman to create an original brand at LVMH and the first black woman at the top of the group - signaling that the group recognises that growth in the luxury industry may no longer come just from reinventing old heritage names, but by embracing a new diverse, digital, direct communication-enabled reality.

According to LVMH’s fashion CEO Pierre-Yves Roussel, it has been building a business underpinned by a “culture of creativity”.

“We look at the facts, we talk about what works and what doesn’t work, we fix what’s not working, and we adjust quickly. Whatever happens, we’re able to adjust fast,” he said in an interview with McKinsey, when asked how the luxury giant, which owns historic brands like Louis Vuitton and Hennessy, had achieved such success. It’s also been forceful when it comes to the M&A market - a $3.2bn acquisition of hotel group Belmond, ¢16.2bn purchase of Tiffany, and of course Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty makeup range and not just relying on its heritage brands for growth. And bolstering its position as the world’s largest diversified luxury group, covering well-heeled shoppers from head-to-toe.

The quick adjustment skills Roussel spoke of have been evident in LVMH’s response to coronavirus. When a sudden rush to buy hand sanitizers left mass shortages across France in mid-March, LVMH used its perfume factories to produced unbranded bottles that it could then donate to hospitals.

It also transformed 12 Louis Vuitton handbag workshops so they produced protective masks instead, and has impressively supplied 261 ventilators to hospitals across France.

There have also been multiple reports of the luxury goods conglomerate’s CEO Bernard Arnault donating money to support hospitals.

Meanwhile, its brand Patou will donate proceeds from the sale of two products – a white sweater and a black t-shirt – to help France’s efforts against coronavirus. LVMH has showed that luxury brands aren’t completely disconnected from everyday people and will have generated a lot of goodwill from these moves. Its sales might temporarily slip, but there’s a sense that once things go back to normal, people won’t have forgotten how it adapted its production for the greater good.


Innovation. It is a business buzzword that just won’t go away. Many companies talk a good game about using innovation to drive commercial growth but what a lot of these strategies get wrong is forgetting to cultivate a real culture of innovation among their staff. Shutterstock, however, sees the need to empower employees to create and innovate and has been hosting an annual 24-hour hackathon which lets employees pursue ideas that will benefit the company.

For two days each summer, most of the Shutterstock staff puts its regular work on hold and comes up with new, creative ideas that can be executed in just 24 hours. It’s the Shutterstock Hackathon, and it’s been growing bigger every year since 2011.

With a valuation of around $1.5bn and having expanded revenues from just shy of $500m in 2016 to $623m in 2018, Shutterstock has been steadily growing. The company, which has an archive of millions of purchasable images and videos, has also been profitable, posting a full-year net income of $31m in 2018.

One of the key factors in its success has been the way Shutterstock has established itself as a brand that has its finger on the pulse of pop culture when it comes to brand advertising. Last year, it recreated a trailer to the new season of Stranger Things only using stock footage, while it also launched an online video campaign that parodied the infamous Fyre festival through also tapping into its archives.

Speaking of those campaigns, Shutterstock chief marketing officer Lou Weiss told The Drum: “We're really showing rather than telling what you can do with our stuff. We're acting no more and no less like a customer of Shutterstock and using assets to tell our story in the same way that we empower the world's storytellers to tell their story.”

And it has continued this approach of utilising its own product with its reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. In an effort to help small to large businesses as well as news agencies in their coverage of the pandemic, Shutterstock has created an archive of Covid-19 content on working from home and social distancing. In addition, it’s provided tools such as infographics curated based on the search results and download data it has been seeing from customers.

It’s also launched various guides explaining how people in the media industry, who represent many of Shutterstock’s customer base, can respond to the pandemic tastefully. These steps have shown Shutterstock is there for its community and can be agile in shifting things around, so its service is more contextually relevant for its users.

Octopus Energy

As one of Britain’s fastest-growing energy newcomers, the energy brand Octopus has grown rapidly over recent years — despite only launching in 2016, Octopus now has more than 750,000 customers with 100% renewable electricity. And in its goals to catch up with the big six, the energy firm is standing out through its personal approach, even giving all of its customers the email address of its founder and CEO Greg Jackson should they want to contact him directly with a query.

“We want to make energy more transparent with more affordable prices as we move to the green energy transition,” Jackson has said of its unique approach. “Most energy companies have a loss-making deal in year one and then hike you on to a profitable deal in year two, but we try and have good value all the time. Customers shouldn't have to agonise over which energy company, and which deal they are going to get. It should always be good value.”

Octopus has also been offering 100% renewable electricity since May 2018, something the government is also looking to tackle, and there’s a sense that it can position itself as the energy company that really cares about the environment. This idea that Octupus cares more about its customers than the average energy supplier has been furthered by its activity as a result of COVID-19.

For starters, it is stopping debt collection throughout the pandemic, and won’t disconnect any credit metres if customers are struggling to pay their bills. And with all its staff working from home, Octupus launched OctoKids and OctoTV to help staff keep their kids entertained during self-isolation. The fact it has maintained all the staff it employs directly with 100% pay and is providing transparent and detailed financial analysis on its website on how it plans to support customers who might have suffered a loss of income will also have played a positive role in brand perceptions.

A lot of energy brands will claim to be there for customers, but their actions won’t necessarily live up to the rhetoric – there’s a sense Octupus is doing things differently and could persuade customers, who might have been impressed by how it responded to this crisis, to switch providers over the coming years.

Meanwhile, it has also achieved unicorn status after it recently sold a 20% equity stake in its business to Australia's Origin Energy

The question, however, that critics continue to ask is whether all these initiatives demonstrate long term strategy in this very tough energy sector or whether Octopus appears to be a winner for having secured the unicorn status.


The world’s leading logistics company grew group revenues by 2.9% year on year to €63.3bn in 2019. This is in sharp contrast to where DHL found itself back in 2007, with its performance in decline and not enough of a global presence beyond markets like Germany (where its owners Deutsche Post are based) and the US harshly impacting its bottom line. But by expanding internationally and incorporating a fresh brand strategy that saw the board show employees songs to illustrate the changes it wanted to implement (more of that here) and increasing in-house staff workshops around customer service, DHL successfully turned things around.

Its approach to dealing with coronavirus has also been forward-thinking, with DHL proving it can quickly utilise its global supply chain to help wider society. In the UK, DHL has utilised 3D-printing to make face masks for NHS staff struggling with PPE and made the news after delivering 100,000 face shields to workers, while in Costa Rica, DHL volunteers set up a distribution centre for Covid-19-related supplies. In Thailand, meanwhile, DHL has been distributing free hand sanitiser to some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

It has also utilised B2B internet agency Upp to ensure all of DHL’s social media coverage of coronavirus is rooted in positive stories that will uplift its customers. DHL has shown a forward-thinking approach from a B2B brand to battling the crisis and although it has publicly conceded that the pandemic will leave a dent on its sales, the positive sentiment generated from its many global efforts to help with the Covid-19 fight surely won’t be forgotten in the future.


It’s been a difficult few years for Amazon when it comes to media headlines, with its founder Jeff Bezos regularly criticised for supposedly exploiting workers and not paying enough tax. But despite this criticism, worldwide sales at Amazon increased by more than 26% in the first quarter of 2020. However, profits sharply fell, andBezos has pledged to spend $4bn in the second quarter to fight against the coronavirus.

“If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small,” Bezos warned in a prepared statement that accompanied Amazon’s earnings report. “Under normal circumstances, in this coming Q2, we’d expect to make some $4bn or more in operating profit. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Instead, we expect to spend the entirety of that $4 billion, and perhaps a bit more, on Covid-19 related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe.”

This includes a pledge to hire 100,000 new workers to keep up with demand, helping in turn to boost the global economy. It has also purchased 100 million face masks, making sure employees wear them in its workhouses. It has also acquired more than 1,000 thermal cameras and 31,000 thermometers to enable mandatory daily temperature checks of employees. And after delivery chain Deliveroo experienced financial trouble after restaurants were closed as a result of coronavirus, Amazon stepped in with a £400m investment, providing another boost and enabling Deliveroo with the infrastructure to use its staff to help with supermarket deliveries during this difficult period. It also invested money in independent book stores.

There will be critics to this activity who will accuse Amazon of using coronavirus to expand its grip of the retail market and start to press its claws into the competition, but there will also be supporters who will look at all this activity as proof Amazon is genuinely interested in supporting the economies it operates in. Where do you stand?



Despite pissing off most of its country’s dairy industry after launching a campaign with the tagline ‘‘It’s like milk, but made for humans’, Swedish oat milk brand Oatly has grown and grown over recent years. In October 2018, it brought the controversial advertising campaign into the UK market to some success. It continued to push its positioning as a vegan alternative to milk with a successful regional campaign back in 2019, buoyed by research that showed demand for its product stretched way beyond London.

In 2018, Oatly’s UK sales were £18m, but in 2019 this was projected to have doubled to £30m, as environmental concerns among consumers gave a boost to the growth of the alternative diary sector. Oatly has consistently been doing a headline-grabbing job of connecting emotionally with consumers who favour more dairy-free options to meet their own perceptions about health and lifestyle. Remember one of its first campaign was to challenge shoppers to give up cow’s milk for 72 hours and give the brand a try.

The brand has continued with its bold brand activity during the coronavirus pandemic, launching the ODDS (Oatly Department of Distraction Services) platform, which is an online fanzine where Oatly customers can be entertained with diaries from workers, recipes, DIY games (such as playing snooker by using only empty Oatly cartons and your kitchen table), and customizable gifs.

It’s a creative way to provide its most loyal customers with some escapism and has only added to the idea that the naturally cool Oatly is now the oat milk brand to beat.


It hasn’t been the easiest few years for Sainsbury’s. Squeezed by the discounters Aldi and Lidl, growing at a slower rate than its bigger, resurgent rival Tesco, and having seen its deal to merge with Asda dismantled by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Sainsbury’s hasn’t been quite a success story of recent times.

However, its response to the coronavirus pandemic has been good, with soon-to-retire CEO Mike Coupe making it clear from the start what his plan to protect workers and shoppers looked like. He has also announced full pay for workers who are self-isolating and the creation of thousands of jobs across the country so Brits can keep Britain’s food supply chain running.

Sainsbury’s also introduced protective screens at checkouts to keep its workers safe, unique opening times for OAPs and NHS workers, and was one of the first supermarkets to restrict the number of people from the same household who could visit a store.

Furthermore, Sainsbury’s revealed that its customers, along with Argos, Habitat and Nectar customers have collectively raised over £1.9m for Comic Relief and BBC Children in Need.

Sainsbury’s pre-tax profits rose 26% to £255m in the year to 7 March, despite flat sales of £32.4bn and a 0.6% fall in sales at established stores. The supermarket will have come out of this crisis with a lot of good headlines, having proved it can respond to a pandemic with calm and the right measures.

The winners of this year's The Drum Marketing Awards were announced earlier this month with winners ranging from brands such as NHS England, Tena, ITV and Papa John's.

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