How To Care

Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer and Lizzy Hussey interrogate the semiotic codes that brands are employing amid the Covid-19 crisis, as they reach out to let people know that they are there for them...

If you’re living on planet Earth and have email, chances are you’ve received a few (or tons) of missives informing you how various brands are reacting to Covid-19.

We’ve stretched our semiotic muscles, analyzing email marketing received over the last five days to uncover what these brands have been saying – and more importantly – how.

Readers of our semiotics content hopefully recall that normally we explore a relevant topic through the lens of one brand. But these are not usual times. What’s noteworthy at the moment is that most brands have felt compelled to communicate their response over the same medium. Looking at the different ways they’ve done so lets us unpack how verbal and visual cues affect the ways we culturally understand ‘responsibility’ and ‘care.’

Care as a formal reassurance

As crisis grips, the need for voices of confidence, clarity and unwavering strength become more important than ever.

One company we see leaning into this code is Target. A recent email from their CEO was filled with strong, guiding language like ‘committed,’ ‘determined,’ and ‘purpose.’ Cueing confidence and decisiveness, this language works to ensure Target’s customers feel protected and enables the brand to adopt the position of a responsible and trustworthy leader.

Further underscoring this sense of respect and formality is the email’s left-aligned text, which acts as a visual manifestation of order. And where the brand usually relies on lively, bright red visuals and images of smiling people, this email forewent heavy branding or imagery.

By visually deprioritizing the brand, Target is literally conveying that it takes a backseat to public safety and the national interest. The email closes with the CEO’s signature, a final signal of formality and personal responsibility, and one that indicates how some brands are semiotically behaving more like public institutions than commercial enterprises. This alignment with a national message, as almost a civic call to duty, engages the brand with the people they seek to comfort and bolster.

Brands such as Target address customers using formal, left aligned text; while the likes of Seamless instead convey a message reminiscent of a poem calling for unity
Brands such as Target address customers using formal, left aligned text; while the likes of Seamless instead convey a message reminiscent of a poem calling for unity

Care as community support

As we’ve retreated indoors, concern for small and local businesses has spurred social posts urging us, as neighbors, to get creative in our support. We’ve also seen brands such as Uber Eats adopt this code of community into their outreach.

Speaking with collective nouns like ‘our’ and ‘we,’ and choosing to write from their entire team (vs. an individual CEO) establishes a peer-to-peer tonality that emphasizes community, and positions Uber Eats as part of it.

This is supported by language choices like the header: ‘We’re in this together. Let’s support local restaurants,’ and the deliberately local-first tone, which highlights small business owners and workers, delivery personnel, and first responders in need. The subtle use of green throughout the note bolsters cues for growth and community renewal.

Though this is expressed differently, in aligning themselves with the community, Uber Eats is another example of a brand behaving like an institution rather than a commercial offering.

Care as a brief respite

While the previous two codes of care confront Covid-19 head-on, a few brands have taken a different approach.

Local fast-casual chain, Dig Inn, for instance, does not explicitly refer to Covid-19 once in its communication. Instead, its language – with the opening line ‘A lot of things are changing, but your lunch doesn’t have to be one of them’ – offers both support, but also respite from the constant flow of coverage; it reassures readers that some elements of normalcy and their routine can remain.

While the font is simple and the message concise, even the use of Dig Inn’s typically bold and bright images of their natural and vibrant food permits a sense of respite, cueing the pleasure and sensory stimulation that is lacking in more formal brand comms (eg Target, Uber Eats).

Rather than a letter from the CEO, Uber play to community, signing off from the team as a whole. Dig Inn's bright imagery and messaging evokes normalcy
Rather than a letter from the CEO, Uber play to community, signing off from the team as a whole. Dig Inn's bright imagery and messaging evokes normalcy

How to care

We all care. And demonstrating that care as a value is more important than ever right now. It’s admirable and vital that brands are ready and willing to take up their social roles and help the planet manage and recover from its current plight.

It’s also very important, as a brand, to be able to express a sense of responsibility and offer reassurance in a way that is both culturally relevant and effective. What this post underlines is that there are many ways to express this care, each with differing implications for how it positions you in the cultural landscape.


At Crowd DNA, we’re learning fast about how to work under current conditions. We’re adjusting our methods and already working on Covid-19-related briefs for clients in areas such as alcohol, media, retail, home and luxury. Check in with us if you’d like to find out more.