Great advertising is fearless. Yet COVID-19 has torn up the advertising strategy playbook, with many brands rushing to hit pause on all advertising for fear of appearing too insensitive or out of touch with users. This is of course understandable, but is it advisable?
Instead of a complete halt on advertising spend, there has to be a better option, because even such short-term inactivity can lead to longer-term negative consequences. (Here it must be stated that other issues, like the socio-political climate in general, have also influenced brand spend; but the focus here is on what happened, and is still happening, as a result of the pandemic).
That’s why those brands that are able to move rapidly and creatively, demonstrating awareness of the crisis by delivering clever, socially-conscious forms of advertising to online users, are gaining a significant competitive edge.
Data released at the beginning of the outbreak, an arguably scarier and certainly more unpredictable time, revealed that only 8% of consumers think brands should stop advertising due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Even at the height of the crisis, in the midst of lockdown panic worldwide, consumers and online users were still looking for explicit evidence that brands understood how COVID-19 was impacting people’s lives.
Brands are understandably cautious
It is clear brands don’t want to take the wrong message to market; add that to the fact that advertising is typically first on the chopping block in a recession and the rapid slowdown in the digital advertising economy over the past few months becomes clear.
Forward-thinking brands are those responding quickly, adapting their messaging and campaign strategies accordingly, based on the fundamental changes that coronavirus has had on millions of lives worldwide.
Relevant and respectful advertising is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary for brands to remain front of mind amongst their target audiences. And if a brand needs to pivot its advertising strategy in ways that are more balanced, tasteful and relevant in light of the COVID-19 crisis, then the sooner they do this the better.
Simple and reassuring brand messages are now required if brands are to respect changing consumer values.
What this doesn’t mean is that brand messaging should be overbearingly serious or, even worse, morose and depressing.
This is a time of opportunity for innovative brands and content publishers. A time in which truly great advertising creatives need to step up to the plate, in order to produce ads that are funny, relevant, quirky, and, above all, genuinely engaging with target audiences.
‘We are all in this together’
We know that ‘we are all in this together’, because we have been told this a million times by governments, health authorities and local councils. And we don’t really need to reiterate that obvious message too often.
Readers are willing to exchange their increasingly-slight attention spans for those ads that can respond to the crisis in a tasteful, creative and, even sometimes funny way.
In today’s climate, the new advertising order has to be putting a more balanced value exchange in place that trades readers’ attention for these new kinds of adverts.
For example, this might be done by talking about a brand in a carefree and light way – making light of how bored we are at home, for instance – in addition to lending support to the messaging of government and health organizations.
Toyota is one fantastic example that I regularly cite in this context. The car manufacturer adapted its 2020 Olympics ad campaign to a ‘Heroic Medal’ spot that celebrated frontline workers. Which was just genius.
Those brands, following the lead of the likes of Toyota, that can switch their approach creatively and rapidly are the ones that will be able to ensure their planned advertising for Q3/Q4 2020 lands as it was intended, delivering both short-term sales and long-term equity.