Everything else.. Advertising in the Age of COVID-19

Advertising in the Age of COVID-19

2020 May 13


We are facing a crisis situation. It’s changed the behaviour of the public in unprecedented ways, and businesses are forced to transform their operational models to meet these new demands.

Let’s admit it, there’s no tried and tested recipe for brands to advertise during the current socio-economic situation. Most advertising material and content that would come out of brands now will be tested in ways they weren’t before. 

Image from https://bit.ly/3fQvMMc

Sri Lanka will soon see the day curfew ends, and when it does, people will emerge from spending on essential categories regardless of brands to finding comfort in preference again. So advertising, publishing content and staying relevant as a brand and business are now unwaveringly important. 

People are collectively restless, and more suspicious towards brands than never before. They didn’t like being sold to before, and even more so now. Aggressively pushing for sales is the last thing people want from brands. 

The challenge for brands and businesses is now less about their competitors, therefore less about authenticity. Instead, it’s about staying on top of the customers’ mind. Now is the time for relatability. 

Building material that’s relatable to your target audience during the pandemic starts by going back to the basics and re-examining them. Model insights we had for the behaviour of people are largely inapplicable at the moment. It’s back to the drawing board in our effort to understand them. 

We can start with two fundamental questions:

How’s your target audience doing economically right now? 

Most likely, the answer will be “not so well”. The pandemic has changed the livelihood of many.

What can you do to help them? 

Exempting products or services that are essential, many of us can’t answer “buy my product.” For most of us, it may simply be to not expect a lot from them. 


Here are a few pointers on what your business can avoid doing in its advertising and marketing:


1. Insensitive advertising. 

We’ve already seen it. Putting coronavirus antennas on your product or a cause your brand wants to talk about is insensitive. No one’s doing that to spread awareness. It’s certainly not creative either. Avoid at any cost anything that goes along the lines of: “Not dead yet Might as well get 20% off your next order of our product. Needless to say, it’s not funny”.

We know insensitive advertising when we see it. Avoid it. It’s not relatable. 


2. Content that becomes noise. 

Consider not publishing content if it starts with “In these uncertain times…” and ends with “…we care for you”. Brand content that turns to “noise” is useless and as damaging as doing insensitive advertising. Why push out material that’s “just another ad?”

Quality wins against quantity. Minimize generic pandemic-related material and increase gaps between your communications. This generates time for your content to be crafted better. It’s time to embrace that less is more


3. Tacky marketing. 

Again, people are more suspicious of brands now. They’re going to see through the “it’s that-special-day” offer fast. Pushing out tacky sales pitches about how you can cut a deal is the least relatable thing to be doing.

One of the fundamental mistakes that result in all not-so-great advertising is the lack of great copywriting. A good copywriter can easily navigate a message out of insensitivity, becoming noise and tackiness. Hire copywriters that understand crafting.

Marketing and strategy are secondary to action, even more so now where businesses and brands have little time to start doing something before all is lost. Action is vital, says John Long, an executive creative director at Ogilvy New York, writing that during a crisis, brands should let their actions do the talking.


Here’s what he suggests brands can communicate:


1. How you’re helping fight the virus itself.

Become a business that faces challenges of the pandemic with gusto. Content for your brand that comes from what internal changes had been made to adapt and fight the virus builds relatable and informative material that adds value. 

Image from https://bit.ly/3dNVzmh

2. How you’re helping people and other businesses.

With unemployment on the rise and a large portion of employees facing salary cuts, how is your business making effort to be a people-first brand? How has the connection between suppliers for your business changed – and what has been done to help strengthen that bond?

Image from https://www.facebook.com/PickMeFoodlk/

3. Critical information people need during the crisis.

Connect dots between the brand, causes and people. Using the platform of your brand to keep the public informed is a humble and a much-appreciated thing to do. 

Now, more than ever, it’s upon creatives to bring good ideas to the table for brands we love. 

In building content for brands, video continues to grow as a medium. To quote Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.” While new platforms that are entirely video-based like TikTok are seeing exceptional amounts of downloads locally, we see that YouTube and TV viewership is also on the rise. 

In building video content, we are to now be resourceful. 

Access to a functional production crew will continue to be difficult over time and immediately turning to animated info-graphics is not the alternative. Animatic white-board videos are the worst of it. Making the effort to deliver genuine content will pay off better than stock footage and leftover b-roll material from your previous commercial. Dare to build content remotely.

Build relatable content that responds to the crisis with empathy and strive to utilize your platform in a manner that drives positive change. This will help you retain top of the mind recollection among your target customers. 

Written by Creative enthusiast, Sajini Jayanetti. 


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