To communicate effectively with your international audience, you need to understand their reality. But keeping up with developments in your target markets can be challenging. We offer insights from three key markets affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

In the UK, 86% of marketers are pausing or reviewing their campaigns. They’re getting rid of adverts that don’t reflect social distancing and adapting their tone to suit these uncertain times.

International marketers face additional challenges. The situation is changing rapidly and in different ways in countries across the world. To help you adapt your global strategy, we’ve pulled together the latest updates from three different markets at different stages of the outbreak. (If you’re not in these markets, tell us where you’re active and we’ll gather the insights for you.)


Germany went into lockdown on 13 March. Schools and non-essential businesses closed (or moved online). The majority of Germans (72%) feel positive about their government’s approach, thanks to high test volumes and low death rates. However, the German economy started 2020 in a fragile way, sparking concerns about the long-term financial impact of the crisis.

“Gemeinsinn” – community spirit – is a watchword for Germany. 90% of German consumers expect brands to support their employees and suppliers. Around 50% think brands must help the country survive the crisis. In the first two weeks of lockdown, this resulted in a wave of public “thank you” messages for workers. Now, the focus is shifting again.

In April, advertising spend is expected to drop by 40%. Coca-Cola stopped all their campaigns, donating their ad budget to coronavirus relief initiatives instead. Other companies are moving the focus back onto customers.

For example, supermarket Penny has adapted their tagline “erstmal zu Penny” (first, to Penny’s). When the lockdown started, they changed it to “erstmal helfen” (first, help). Now it’s “erstmal zu Hause” (first, [focus on] home). They’ve moved from celebrating their team to celebrating the comfort of home, asking customers to share moments from their new routines.

What doesn’t work is business as usual. Corona beer’s attempt to lift spirits (“Have the best time of your life”) predictably fell flat. By contrast, Beck’s and Jägermeister are supporting the production of disinfectants.

In the B2B sector, Germany has a healthy circuit of trade fairs (“Messen”) and events. Since these have been cancelled, many companies are reevaluating how (or if) to reallocate this spend elsewhere.

Many marketers in Germany are thinking long-term: increasing brand awareness and retaining customers. Growing sectors (telecoms, streaming services, food & drink) are focusing on interactive, content-rich campaigns.


  • There is no business as usual – adapting your marketing strategy is a must.
  • German customers want to know how your brand is helping their community.
  • Start by acknowledging the crisis and thanking your workers. Then shift the focus back to your customers and how you can provide value.



China is emerging from lockdown, in place in Wuhan since 23 January. All eyes are now on the speed of its economic recovery and consumer spending patterns.

China has been moving to an all-digital retail value chain for some time. During the lockdown, the uptake of new technology accelerated, with social channels like Little Red Book and TikTok reporting solid growth. Innovation and experimentation are continuing apace.

Shanghai Fashion Week partnered with Alibaba for its first online-only show. During the first three hours, 2.5 million customers tuned in, commenting and purchasing items live. Louis Vuitton was one of the brands taking part. In March, they also launched on Little Red Book. They capitalized on a 37% increase in livestreams, gaining 130,000 followers as a result.

IKEA is also breaking new ground. They’ve started selling products through Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace. It’s the first time the brand has sold products through a third party anywhere. IKEA explained the move by highlighting the importance of marketplaces and social commerce in China.

Spending patterns in tier 3–5 cities have generally been less conservative than in tiers 1-2. There are reports of “revenge spending” too. This term was coined after the Cultural Revolution to describe a spending backlash. Some shopping malls have reported queues, but it’s too early to predict how consumer confidence will develop.

International Women’s Day was the first significant date after restrictions were eased. It showed how important the right tone is. Chanel’s brand ambassador posted: “Women who don’t know how to wear perfume don’t have a future.” Social media replies were fast and furious.

Chinese consumers are becoming more nationalistic, responding to changes in US-China relations. 56% of consumers would avoid American products. Overseas brands should be careful to avoid faux-pas and to have campaign materials locally reviewed.


  • Existing trends towards domestic brands and new technology are accelerating.
  • Chinese consumers will be impatient with poor-quality or insensitive content.
  • Consumer spending is increasing, but not in a consistent pattern. Accurate targeting matters.



The 2020 Tokyo Olympics attracted $3.1 billion of investment, making them the most heavily sponsored games to date. Now postponed to July 2021, key sponsors are standing by the games, at least until the financial impact of the change is clear. However, this also gives other companies time to consider their approach.

Japan currently has around 4,000 coronavirus cases, including 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise liner. This relatively low number puts the country in 30th place worldwide. Because of this, Japanese daily life – and marketing – has not yet been severely impacted by the virus. So far, Japan has banked on voluntary compliance with social distancing measures, rather than formal lockdowns. When asked to stay home over the weekend, 83% of Tokyo residents did.

Social media discussions suggest Japan’s unique culture may have helped limit infections. For example, low levels of handshakes, no shoes in the house and the widespread wearing of face masks. This isn’t scientific proof. But it’s an important consideration for marketers – referencing these cultural traits would go down well with customers.

All that being said, a surge in cases has sparked fears of an imminent outbreak. As a result, the government has declared a national state of emergency. At the moment, these new measures aren’t as restrictive as in China or Germany. There’s no requirement to stay at home. Instead, the government hopes jishuku – self-restraint – will be enough to encourage compliance.

As widespread changes start taking hold in Japanese society, the smart marketer should be ready to adapt quickly to the evolving situation.


  • With fewer changes to daily routines, marketing in Japan hasn’t been that affected until now. However, as new measures are introduced to curb the spread of the virus, this is changing.
  • Marketing campaigns should reflect Japanese cultural practices.
  • There is time to reconsider your approach to the Tokyo Olympics.



Global consumers want brands to play their part in the coronavirus crisis. In fact, 78% want brands to help them in their daily lives – without appearing opportunistic. This means you should adapt your approach to the current reality in your target market. The challenge is to communicate effectively and relevantly. Our previous blog post can help you adapt the fundamentals to the current situation.

As Japan proves, the global picture continues to shift rapidly. We’ll keep sharing and updating our insights to help you adapt to changing markets, and weather the storm.

If you have any questions or requests, we’re here to help.

Photo by Christian Regg on Unsplash

ABOUT Jonny Simpson

I make sure English content is excellent. And I'll write, edit, proofread and translate for that to happen. I believe the most impactful content combines useful, culturally relevant information with compelling copy, and I've seen great results with Ermenegildo Zegna and Maserati.

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