Q&A: John Ford Talks About The Brands Saving the World

John Ford, Founder, and CEO of The One Centre in Sydney is speaking this week at Ad Stars 2020 about the brands that have pivoted, mobilized, publicized, and suddenly risen in the war against COVID-19 and its attack on our health, economy, and way of life.

We recently caught up with Ford to discuss his talk titled ‘The Brands Saving the World.’ As founder and CEO of The One Centre, Ford and his team have been busy researching how brands and agencies are changing their game plan and rising to the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Based in Sydney, The One Centre helps clients globally create and launch new ventures. Right now, it is working on a global plant-based QSR concept to encourage ‘flexitarianism’, a positive impact investing company in cleantech that will help to redefine ESG investing, and a design platform that’s shaking up the global construction sector.


Your Ad Stars talk is all about ‘The Brands Saving the World’. Which brands pivoted fastest in response to the coronavirus pandemic?

High-profile brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Nike were obviously quick to pivot to manufacture PPE (personal protective equipment), but I was also interested to see how lesser-known brands like Tushy, Zwift, and Neolix are rising in the war against COVID-19. These brands offer solutions to problems that are suddenly quite urgent. My talk will feature a mix of brands across categories, countries, and cultures so that other marketers can learn from their ability to pivot, mobilize, and spin their resources for good.

Can you tell us what inspired this topic?

The One Centre has been tracking the market to identify disruptive high-growth businesses for a few years now. We did so much of this that we decided to launch a talk series, ONEtalks, to showcase examples of brands that are shaking up established industries or creating entirely new ones. Then along came COVID, and we became interested in brands that are not only disrupting the world but helping us to stay healthy and connected in the midst of a global health pandemic. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’.

What sorts of challenges are brands solving today?

They are obviously meeting the demand for essential products like hand sanitizer and ventilators, but they’re also combating loneliness, enhancing our health, and keeping us entertained and connected during lockdown. It took Dyson just 10 days to invent the CoVent – a ventilator that’s optimized for safety and efficiency. Nike swung into action to launch ‘Play inside, play for the world’ in support of social distancing. Sometimes saving the world starts with being generous: Allbirds is one of many brands helping healthcare workers through small acts of kindness (in this case, free shoes), while Land Rover immediately deployed a fleet of cars to deliver food and medicine to vulnerable communities.

They’re all examples of brands with a strong sense of purpose, which makes them highly adaptable in uncertain times like these.


Did your research uncover any surprising or lesser-known brands?

Tushy is a good example of a relatively obscure brand that is suddenly rising as a result of the pandemic. It sells bidets in America, where very few people use bidets. When news of the coronavirus first hit, people began cramming their shopping carts full of toilet paper. Hoarding took off, and in March, sales of Tushy bidets began to ramp up to 10 times its normal figures. A mission that once seemed impossible – convincing Americans to use bidets over toilet paper – now seems conceivable.

Zwift is another example. It is part of an indoor sports phenomenon where sports lovers compete from the arena of their own living rooms. Unsurprisingly, its users have also surged since coronavirus lockdowns began.

Did any interesting brands or trends emerge in the Asia Pacific region, specifically?

Two of my favorites are Archie Rose, an Australian gin distillery that was quick to meet the demand for hand sanitizer. Its hand sanitizer is wonderfully ‘on brand’ and the first batch sold out in hours. We wanted to understand how they saved their workforce from redundancies and pivoted resources so quickly.

I also love Neolix, which is a Chinese start-up that makes autonomous vehicles. Until now, public perception of autonomous vehicles has been tainted by accidents and fatalities, but the coronavirus is changing this – and Neolix is one of the brands that will benefit.

What will your next ONEtalks series explore?

ONEtalks is our innovation talks series on brands disrupting the world. Each series is designed to help marketers and business leaders keep abreast of the latest breakthrough ideas and marketing innovation across industries and across the globe.

We hope to lead the way in researching brands that are driven by a big social purpose or ideal. Our goal is to inspire and challenge the way you think about creating and launching disruptive ideas in the world.

‘ONEtalks: The Brands Saving the World’ is screening from Thursday 22 October as part of AD STARS 2020. All sessions are free to watch at www.adstars.org. Register for The One Centre’s next ONEtalks series in November via theonecentre.com/talks.

Barbara Messer

Barbara Messer

Barbara is a Sydney-based content strategist, writer, editor, and communications consultant.

Read More

subscribe & get more brand in your diet


get more brand in your diet

We never share your info,
we only share ours