Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Brands shouldn’t disappear completely, but they must adjust advertising strategies to reflect the new order.

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Ben Williams, Director of Advocacy at eyeo

Under normal circumstances, most brands are able advertise without fear of causing too much controversy. Unless, of course, they decide to run the gauntlet on a political or social issue. However, COVID-19 has ripped up the advertising playbook, with many brands choosing to pause all advertising for fear of appearing too insensitive in the eyes of the consumer. 

It’s reasonable that some brands have become reticent in taking their message to market for fear of offending audiences, particularly when advertising directly next to coronavirus news, leading to a halt in advertising spend.I believe inactivity will equally have long-term negative consequences for a business. Instead, brands able to demonstrate awareness of the crisis, by delivering tasteful, socially conscious forms of advertising, will not only resonate well with consumers but will put them in a position for revenue gains and a competitive advantage on the other side of the pandemic. 

Those questioning this can be encouraged by data revealing only 8% of consumers think brands should stop advertising due to the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, when the pandemic was at its peak consumers were looking for explicit evidence that brands were speaking about products in ways that showed that they were aware of the crisis and its impact on people’s lives. 

It is critical brands recognise this change in consumer values and deliver adverts to reflect this. Failure to do so and they could risk brands permanently vanishing. 

Understandably, brands have become incredibly cautious about taking the wrong message to market, hence a significant slowdown in advertising efforts amongst organisations. The situation is truly unprecedented and it’s important brands are respectful of this and adapt their campaigns accordingly. 

Relevant, respectful advertising is still possible, and advisable, even if avoiding any relation to coronavirus in those adverts may be impossible. As such, the approach that is now needed is for brands to remain present, but ensure they pivot any advertising strategies in a way that is more balanced and tasteful. That doesn’t mean they must be overbearingly serious, or worse, morose – or again repeat that ‘we’re all in this together’. That’s all of course fine, but they can also be … funny.

It is understandable that some businesses feel too uncomfortable having their brand close to coverage about COVID-19. However, for those cautiously re-examining their approach to how they advertise in today’s climate, the new order simply has to be putting a more balanced value exchange in place that trades readers’ attention for tasteful adverts. This could be done by talking about their own brand in a carefree and light way – for instance, making light of how bored we are at home – or simply lending support to the messaging of government and health organisations. 

Some brands have already cottoned on to this, such as when Toyota adapted its 2020 Olympics ad campaign to a ‘Heroic Medal’ spot in order to celebrate frontline workers. This is a perfect example of how a brand has remained present, while respecting the changing values of consumers.  

If brands are able to switch their approach, they will ensure that advertising lands as intended and delivers short-term sales and long-term equity, which is particularly important at a time when many media budgets have been reduced and ROI is harder to come by.


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