#PRAwards 2021 highlight: Behind Carousell's efforts to regain brand love amidst COVID-19

As a consumer-to-consumer online marketplace, one of Carousell’s biggest challenges is cultivating and maintaining brand love for a platform that cannot possibly homogenise its buying experience. Unlike other eCommerce platforms that select their merchants, anyone can sell and buy on Carousell. While Carousell does its best to educate users and moderate the platform to ensure safety, there are both buyers and sellers who misuse the platform in varying degrees of severity. This ranges from rude remarks to harassment and even fraud. The term “Carou-hell” is often used to describe this aspect of Carousell, and detaching negative sentiment from the brand is an ongoing issue.

Given this persisting PR challenge, Carousell took it upon itself to improve its brand positioning among consumers in Singapore. It also went the extra mile with its #ChoosetoGive campaign, which ignited a nationwide giving movement. This led Carousell to bag a silver award for the category of “Best PR by an In-House Communications Team” at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s PR Awards 2021.

Challenge

When the pandemic first hit Singapore at the end of January 2020, Carousell had just transitioned into managing communications solely in-house. As local cases began to rise, so did the nation’s level of panic. Before the government was prepared to issue reusable cloth masks and decentralise the distribution of hand sanitisers, Singaporeans were overwhelmed with fear and frantically trying to get their hands on disposable masks and hand sanitisers.

With the increase in demand and global scarcity, there was an onslaught of panic-buying of essentials, which left the shelves of supermarkets literally empty. There was public education on replacing sanitisers with the practice of regular hand-washing, but the item that remained most sought after were masks. With retail outlets running out of stock, opportunistic individuals started importing masks from overseas and reselling them on Carousell for inflated prices. Some individuals took advantage of the public’s fear and promised buyers with masks that would be delivered at a later date, but never fulfilled their orders. This led to a series of "mask scams" on Carousell and an overwhelming amount of negative sentiment racked up for Carousell, during an already sensitive and difficult climate.

Swift actions were taken on the marketplace and all mask-related listings were moderated by Carousell to ensure fair pricing, with unreasonably priced mask listings being taken down. However, articles with screenshots of mask scams on Carousell continued to flood the news cycle in February 2020, given that there were scams that had taken place before we could clamp down on the bad actors. Thus, without an agency to rely on, Carousell had to come up with a solution to tackle the sudden barrage of negative PR.

Strategy

Carousell's strategy, completely conceptualised and executed by its in-house team, was threefold:

  1. Addressing concerns about activity on Carousell

Carousell immediately worked with the content moderation team to take down listings where needed. The team reached out directly to its sellers, advising them to price their masks reasonably in order to allow a fair distribution of masks. It also worked closely with the relevant regulatory and enforcement agencies. It also shared these efforts with the media such as TODAY and The Business Times.

However, reactive measures alone are not enough. Carousell wanted to take a step further to allay public concerns and educate the public aware of actions that were being taken.

The team curated a collection of reasonably-priced healthcare items and including all the steps buyers should follow to deal safely to avoid scams. This category was placed on a banner on its home screen, so that all users would immediately see it when entering the online marketplace.

  1. Recognising weakness as strength

What allowed for these scams to take place was the fact that anyone can sell and buy on Carousell. The team at Carousell recognises this trait as its biggest challenge and its biggest strength.

As an in-house team, Carousell’s biggest strength is to have its ears extremely close to the ground and its attention laser-focused on the needs and responses of users and community. The team noticed a few individuals who were giving away essentials for free through Carousell, and saw it as a golden opportunity to remind people of the strength of camaraderie and kindness during challenging times through its platform. Armed with that insight, Carousell looked to create a social media post with quotes from the Carousell users who were giving away items for free, to share these organic acts of goodwill and build on positive sentiment.

  1. Creating a ground-up swell of positive sentiment

With the news of users giving away items for free on Carousell gaining traction in the media, Carousell’s in-house team brainstormed on how it could creatively turn the momentary hike in positive sentiment into a sustained movement. It wanted the community to not only be inspired by these acts of kindness, but have an avenue to participate, contribute back to society during difficult times. This in turn builds brand love for Carousell.

Execution

Within a matter of a few days, Carousell conceived the campaign #ChoosetoGive to sustain and build on the momentum of positive sentiment. The heartwarming campaign inspired by sellers on Carousell sought to rally the wider community to give items freely on Carousell, and spark off a flywheel of kindness to tide Singaporeans through the pandemic.

The campaign was executed in three stages:

Stage one: Amplify the full stories of Carousellers who gave freely

To launch the campaign, Carousell first released a video interviewing various sellers on Carousell who were using the platform to give freely to those in need. This includes the seller who first kicked off the concept of the free items, as well as the seller who had been giving away hundreds of free masks on Carousell within the first week of the mask shortage in Singapore. The video, which showed Singaporeans going out of their way to help one another through Carousell, encouraged others to join the movement.

Stage two: Encourage the community to partake in giving

After the video launch, Carousell followed up with messaging in-app and social media posts about what items are most commonly needed on Carousell. This was accompanied by quotes from those who benefitted from those free items.

Stage three: Spotlight stories that took place through this movement and create a flywheel of positivity

To cap off the campaign and truly invoke a flywheel of positivity during the outbreak of the pandemic, Carousell also encouraged its users who either gave or received free items through our #Choosetogive campaign, to share their stories on social media in order to win vouchers. It gave both givers and receivers affirmation with another social post to share their stories.

Results

The results of the campaign surpassed what the campaign sought out to achieve, which was to quell negative sentiment. The news cycle shifted from mask scams to “Carousell vigilantes” and explored how Singaporeans can still find kindness amidst fear and panic. The campaign was featured in several media outlets across print, online and social media as well as by influencers. This includes Epoch Times, AsiaOne, The New Paper, and Nylon.

With care and concern for the community, Carousell not only managed to address their concerns and safeguard users’ interests but also facilitated the much-needed respite of genuine care during a pandemic. With no assistance from any external agency or consultant, Carousell’s in-house team creatively managed a successful turnaround from negative news to heartwarming news and overall sentiment within the span of just a few weeks.