A few very dumb COVID-19 corporate messages

Every corporation you’ve ever done business with is now filling your inbox with “reassuring” messages. Most of them are companies you’ll never work with again, so they’re just an annoying background buzz. But some of them are actively dopey. Things are bad enough — this is no time for more self-inflicted brand damage.

And now, a (weasel) word from Hertz

Travel companies are suffering hugely in this crisis. To the extent that anyone wants to continue to fly, stay, or rent a car, they have a big problem: convincing you that it is safe. Last week I looked at airline messaging. But I also received this reassuring missive from Hertz on Friday (weasel words highlighted):

A message about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Dear Customer,

Whether you rent a car at the airport or at one of our nearly 3,000 convenient neighborhood locations, Hertz is here to get you there. Be assured as the No. 1 ranked company for rental car Customer Satisfaction by J.D. Power, our focus remains on going the extra mile to get you where you need to be safely and with confidence.

Lesson number one: Don’t start your virus-related message with marketing. No one cares that Hertz is ranked first for customer satisfaction. The only thing we care about right now is: are the cars actually safe, and can we cancel our reservations?

We are closely monitoring Coronavirus (COVID-19) and following the current guidance from the leading government and health authorities to ensure we are taking the right actions to protect our customers, employees and the communities where we operate.

Great, you’re watching the news. That doesn’t help me much.

During this time, we recognize flexibility is more important than ever. At Hertz, you can get the right car to fit your needs without having to pay in advance. As always, Hertz allows you to pay for your rental at the time of pick-up with no cancellation fees. Should your plans change, adjusting existing reservations is easy on Hertz.com.

Very nice to know, but what if you prepaid a reservation? Hertz is still going to keep part of your rental fee. Which they don’t mention here.

Please also know that we continue to maintain our high standards for safety and cleanliness. In addition to practicing preventative measures to reduce the spread of germs within our facilities, all of our vehicles go through a rigorous, multi-step cleaning process for each rental. We remain vigilant in upholding these practices and will take additional precautions as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and local governments.

What is this process? How rigorous is it? I know every Hertz car I get into smells like Febreze. But are you using disinfectants? This is maddeningly vague.

We continue to monitor this evolving situation and will keep you informed of future updates.

Thank you for your continued loyalty.


Jodi Allen
Hertz Chief Marketing & Customer Care Officer

I’d give this communication a C-minus. It’s long on smiles and hugs and short on actual details. It is likely to generate more questions than it answers. So: it ought to be better and more specific, or it’s not worth sending.

Barnes & Noble goes vacuous

At least Hertz is trying. Here’s the message one of my readers got from Barnes & Noble:

A message from Barnes & Noble

Dear Reader,

We’re living through turbulent times together. Our booksellers are your neighbors, your friends and family. Your stories are our stories, and we know how resilient our communities are.


The Booksellers of Barnes & Noble

That’s about as useful as “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. It’s basically, “we’re still here.” And while it may have succeeded in reminding people that the bookstore exists, it also succeeded in generating confusion about Barnes & Noble’s brand. I heard from multiple people about this message; the general response was “What the heck is this about?”

If Hertz got a C-minus, this gets an incomplete.

I also wonder how much longer B&N will remain open in the current climate, and how many people will take the time to visit one.

Be useful or shut up

Unless you’re the spokesperson for the CDC or a state governor, don’t try to reassure people in the midst of a pandemic. That is not the job of a company.

If you have nothing to say, say nothing.

If you have a message with something of substance to say about safety or security, share it — but stick to the actual facts, not weaselly reassurances about “deep cleaning.”

We’ll get through this. If your messages aren’t helping, they won’t do much for your brand. But we might remember how you met fear with insipidity. So don’t make a fool of yourself just because you think you have to say something.

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  1. I just received an email from the CEO of the Container Store that was marginally better that these. However, she did not describe the kind of cleaning they do in stores. I did appreciate her including the fact that if stores do close, staff will continue to be paid.

  2. I find it fascinating that for all but a select few, I am their “top priority”, or some such nonsense. Talking about BS…