How do you connect with consumers during a global pandemic? How do you manage to stay relevant, let alone worth spending money on? These are surely just a couple of major questions that even the most famous brands had to ask themselves in 2020 and on into 2021 as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
Sensitivity was imperative — as well as showing how their company was addressing the average consumer’s needs, despite and in some cases especially because of the public health disaster. After the first few months of the pandemic, advertising began to return to something akin to normal. Remarkably, some widely recognizable brands managed to not only maintain their target consumers but appeal to new people, too. Brands that might have been slipping into obscurity bounced back into the public eye with uncanny prowess.
We talked to branding, marketing and retail experts to find out which household brands are making the biggest comeback as the pandemic rages on.
Last updated: Feb. 26, 2021
“KFC is one of the big brands making a comeback in 2021,” said Lisa Arlington, a retail business owner and inventory control manager of Giftsnerd. “The company actually began its campaign of reopening its restaurants and franchises in the middle of 2020 for delivery and takeaway, particularly in the UK. The campaign began with KFC asking the consumers on social media to recreate KFC’s fried chicken, getting a surprisingly high customer engagement. The company has been telling their customers that they have missed them during the pandemic and that KFC will take it from here and will start producing fried chicken for them. This is a clear message for the customers that nothing beats the original fried chicken from KFC and it is their time to make it for the customers, enticing them to order it from the fast-food chain.”
“Mattel [is focusing] on digitalization and transformation of their business model,” said Edward Shaw, co-founder and marketing director at Leeline Sourcing. “They are investing in digital games and toys as well as working on several film productions for their top toy brands. Among these include live-action films based on Hot Wheels and Barbie, in addition to the animated series ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ coming to Netflix.”
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“Nordstrom’s stock price was slashed in half during the early months of the pandemic, but since late 2020 they have been able to regain almost all of their 2020 losses,” said Shannon Vissers, retail analyst at MerchantMaverick.com. “This reflects surging third-quarter sales, thanks mostly to digital sales.”
Vissers added that Nordstrom’s comeback is surprising, because “department stores have been on their last gasp for years now, and when COVID hit, no one expected consumers to continue to spend on fashion.”
But Nordstrom is implementing a savvy strategy.
“During the pandemic, Nordstrom has focused on e-sales and on offering affordable, cozy fashion through its Nordstrom Rack brand online,” Vissers said. “Nordstrom is also diversifying its business model with plans to further expand its online offerings. Nordstrom told investors in February 2021 that it will reduce its traditional wholesale sales from 85% to 50% of total sales, focusing instead on drop-shipping, concessions and revenue share deals.”
“One of the biggest comebacks there has been so far this year is Crocs,” said Ryan Salomon, CEO of Kissmetrics. “The slipper-like shoes have found their way on social media trends and in stores across America. The idea that not-so-good-looking shoes have blown up shows that individuality and alternative fashion senses are on the way. When you are out in public, look around and see how many Crocs you see when you walk around a downtown area. I guarantee it will be a bigger number than you ever expected in 2021.”
“For anyone who is already obsessed with traveling, [the pandemic] has been [building] an urge for quite some time. But people who were not fans of travel before are seeing COVID as a wake-up call that they need to see the world soon before it’s too late,” said Carrie Derocher, the CMO of TextSanity. “Airbnb will see major revenue in this next coming year and beyond. It is an inexpensive way to book a room and offers an opportunity that hotels do not. The intimate feeling that Airbnb [offers] will be welcomed by everyone ready to travel again. Potential and hype are engulfing this company and it is set to take off.”
Alex Berman, digital marketing and lead generation expert and founder of email10k, adds that as more people are getting vaccinated, Airbnb hype should increase.
“Based on Vizit’s AI analysis of billions of interactions with digital imagery across the internet, it is clear that Popeyes’ recent brand refresh positions them to make a strong comeback in key consumer segments in 2021,” said Jehan Hamedi, CEO and Founder of Vizit. “Popeyes’ new design embraces modern, clean and bright packaging and brand assets that empirically improve the brand’s visibility in connection with consumers. In fact, Vizit’s artificial intelligence analysis of the new Popeyes logo compared to their previous logo reveals the new look is 31% more effective with U.S. millennials. The new logo is also 4.6% more effective than the current McDonald’s logo, and 25.6% more effective than the newly redesigned Burger King logo with U.S. millennials, creating a distinctive visual competitive advantage at a time when visual effectiveness is a key driver of both online conversions and in-store sales.”
“You can’t talk about 2020 comebacks without naming Champion,” said Nick Drewe, CEO and founder of Wethrift. “The sportswear brand saw a ton of success in 2020 by capitalizing on pandemic athleisure wear. Folks staying at home are going to prioritize comfiness, but Champion took it one step further with some strategic streetwear partnerships that combined comfy with cool.”
“The result was one of Champion’s highest-grossing sales years in over a decade, seeing global sales jump 75%,” Drew continued. “They’ve also done a great job of picking celebrity sponsors fitting their new, younger demographic, including linking up with celebrities like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper to the Kardashians.”
“Dickies, which was founded in 1922, appears to be making a comeback,” said Dr. Janet Deskins, faculty member in Walden University’s BS in Communication program. “While this brand is normally focused on manual laborers, it is making its way through customers’ closets for everyday wear in the fashion scene. Dickies clothing is rugged and comes with high customer satisfaction because the brand is well-known for their durable attire.”
Another driver for Dickies? COVID-19 weight gain.
“Consumers are opting for a baggy look, which may be correlated to pandemic weight gain, and Dickies cargo pants hit the mark,” Deskins said. “Dickies are primarily known for their pants, which run on the baggier side. Even though Dickies has been around for a long time, it seems that durability, and perhaps the ease of loose-fitted clothing, is attracting all generations of people.”
“AT&T is so old that the second ‘T’ in its name actually stands for ‘telegraph,” pointed out Jon Hall, founder of Switchbird. “But AT&T has life in it yet! ‘Ma Bell’ has been quietly investing in its original business: Telecom. They’re betting on next-generation messaging and started supporting Rich Communication Services (RCS) in 2020, which is a more interactive, WhatsApp-like version of text messaging. In recent months, AT&T started buying up 5G spectrum to support new kinds of wireless use. And in March, the carrier will for the first time begin supporting registered business-to-consumer messaging on ‘long codes’ or local phone numbers, which signals a future of innovative messaging applications with reduced text spam.”
“Lego saw unprecedented sales in the first six months of 2020, thanks to pandemic lockdowns and folks looking for entertainment at home,” Drewe said. “The interesting trend here is the fact some of the highest-selling sets steered into limited edition or specialty sets. Think things like Star Wars or Harry Potter-themed sets marketed towards older consumers, not necessarily your basic sets for kids. It’s all about nostalgia and quirky entertainment again, followed by parents looking for ways to keep their kids better entertained this past year.”
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