As countries face lockdowns and “nonessential” businesses in many cities have been forced to close, brands are working overtime to keep up engagement (and sales). That has led some major companies, including McDonald’s, Volkswagen, and Audi, to modify their own logos to visualize social distancing and sheltering in place: Volkswagen’s characteristic stacked VW logo was revamped to feature a gap between the two prominent letters. Audi tweeted an animation of its four interconnected rings sliding apart. And fast-food behemoth McDonalds rebranded itself as a golden “M” split into two golden arches with a slight space between them.
It’s easy to see why. COVID-19 is a crisis of unprecedented scale. Consumers aren’t looking for marketing gimmicks; they want to see companies support workers and help fight against the virus. The presumptive purpose of these revamped logos is to raise awareness about social distancing. But how many people are really going to take public health advice from a car company or a fast-food chain?
McDonald’s Brazil took the most heat for its redesign, after observers pointed out that the global company hadn’t guaranteed paid sick leave to its 517,000 workers per year (one Twitter user even redesigned McDonald’s redesign, with fair pay in mind). McDonald’s has since apologized, saying to the New York Post: “We apologize for any misunderstanding of the intent to remind our customers and communities on the importance of social distancing during these uncertain times.” Shortly thereafter, the company adjusted its sick leave policy to apply to all employees of franchises, and guaranteed two weeks of paid sick leave if an employee has been in close quarters with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
I get it. Brands want to stay relevant at a time when pretty much no one wants to buy a new car or a Big Mac. But a quick Photoshop job isn’t the solution. Brands will have to be more creative—and more sensitive—if they want to lure customers at a time when pay cuts are abundant and patience runs thin.
*This article has been updated to clarify the terms of McDonald’s sick leave.