Surekha Ragavan
Jun 3, 2020

How Zalora, AXA and Carousell maneuvered COVID-19 with grace

CAMPAIGN CONNECT: Three brand marketers demonstrate how agility, tapping clearly into brand purpose, and clear messaging can go a long way in a crisis.

From left, clockwise: AXA's Sabrina Cheung, Campaign Asia-Pacific's Matthew Miller (moderator), Carousell's Lewis Ng, Zalora's Jo Bjordal
From left, clockwise: AXA's Sabrina Cheung, Campaign Asia-Pacific's Matthew Miller (moderator), Carousell's Lewis Ng, Zalora's Jo Bjordal

Early on during the pandemic, brands struggled with managing shifts in demand and maintaining trust among stakeholders and consumers. During a session at Campaign Connect yesterday, leaders from Zalora, AXA, and Carousell shared examples of how they coped.

For Sabrina Cheung, chief brand and communications officer at AXA, employee engagement was high on the list of priorities.

“From the onset, we really upped the frequency of communications,” she said. "Our regional CEO was communicating with staff once a week. Our employees needed stress relief as well, they had anxiety. So we aimed to inform, motivate, and release [some of this] stress.”

For employees and partners, AXA responded with PPE donations, a programme for the 101 Fund which allowed employees and partners to post a solidary hashtag after which €5 (US$17) would be donated by AXA to ICUs around the world. Free insurance coverage was provided to frontliners, plus 5 million telehealth consultations were donated across the region.

Cheung added that the role of communications and PR are increasingly important for AXA, especially when it comes to ROI. This, she added, can be practiced not just through earned media, but via owned channels and pulled into internal communications to maximise effectiveness of content.

For a community-focussed marketplace like Carousell, a big challenge at the onset of the pandemic was panic-buying across the region. Lewis Ng, chief commercial officer for Carousell, said this led to a sudden surge in demand for items like face masks and sanitisers, which inevitably resulted in price gouging.

“What we had to do really quickly was identify opportunistic individuals to ensure that no one on our platform was profiteering,” said Ng. “We worked with the different governments in the region to ensure that price was not an issue.”

On the community front, Carousell launched a purpose-based campaign called #ChooseToGive to encourage sellers to donate extra or under-utilised items in need, and this resulted in 1,500 donation listings within a week.

In fact, purpose scored high for the brand as it began to push out stories of kindness and allyship between sellers and buyers. One such story that Ng cited was the case of a man who was retrenched during the pandemic, and who had looked to Carousell to purchase a second-hand bike to begin delivering food. The seller of the bike learned of his story, and loaned it to him for free.

“Covid-19 really solidified our mission,” said Ng. “We’re uniquely placed for this because we’re focused on communities. At these times, giving people the opportunity to sell and buy is very meaningful.”


On the other hand, for a fashion online retailer like Zalora, agility and relevance are important at a time where fashion isn’t top of mind for many. In response to COVID-19, the brand quickly launched an essentials category, where hygiene and basic food products could be listed.

Zalora’s newly appointed CMO Jo Bjordal said that the commercial team had three days to turn around the new category. Simultaneously, the communications teams extended customer service chat hours, and frequently put out updates for customers based on local lockdowns and measures.

Adding to the challenge was managing sellers’ expectations as many merchants were faced with reduced sales.

“We carry 3,000 brands on the platform," Bjordal said. "These brands have been hit even harder than us and they were fumbling in the dark. So it’s a responsibility for us to address their production lines and give them beneficial insights as their offline sales had been completely wiped out.”

In terms of marketing spend, Bjordal said that the pandemic forced him to reconsider spending models as demand decreased. This meant a reduction in offline and above-the-line spend and more focus on digital and analytics.

“Video consumption increased, so we’re spending a lot more there,” he said. “How we communicate has also changed. We have to be a lot more empathetic and relatable; we’re using less glamorous imagery, and using more shot-at-home [footage] from employees.”

This diversity in the brand’s marketing mix, Bjordal added, is more important than ever so that it can pivot quickly to whatever is suited for the times.

For more on how Zalora, AXA, and Carousell are preparing for a ‘new normal’ in a post-COVID future, see the full interview on the Campaign Connect hub.

Campaign Asia

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