Michael Todd is the head of advertising industry relations for EMEA. His team works with key trade bodies, industry associations, and business leaders to promote sustainable growth, maintain consumer trust, and solve challenges facing the ad industry.
The coronavirus outbreak and the social distancing measures put in place to combat it have impacted the world economy, events, and the media in a profound way. How are agencies and advertising companies dealing with this crisis, and how should businesses adapt for a post-pandemic world? We asked experts from across EMEA to share their industry observations and advice in these challenging times.
1. Bringing back the human factor
With the lockdown leading to an increase in television viewers, as well as an extraordinary boom in the consumption of digital content, we've found ourselves faced with a new kind of audience. However, advertising investments have shrunk considerably: many campaigns have been cancelled, and others have been radically redesigned for a future placement that may or may not go ahead.
This emergency has brought authenticity back to the core of our conversations — bringing the human factor, and a sense of caring and community to the forefront. These qualities should inspire us in our efforts to restore trust in the future and help our country get back on its feet. We will need to redevelop brands and ensure that they can keep in contact with consumers in an empathetic and value-driven way.
2. A move to a “communications renaissance”
The change in tone has been the most striking development. Frivolity is almost completely out of the question and irony is also met with criticism. We should mention the FCA campaign by Leo Burnett which celebrates empty streets as a good example of equity campaigns. Other examples include Publicis Italy’s Heineken offering which explores ”new” social relationships, and The Big Now’s Skoda Italia campaign which looks at a new way of travelling.
A general spirit of collaboration and reciprocal support can be seen between agencies. There is a desire to help clients face a period rife with new challenges, and to find alternative solutions.
Companies and clients are learning to talk to each other and share more, and to consider themselves partners. This will be key to what I expect could well be deemed a ”communications renaissance” — not only a return to investments and a renewed creative spirit, but also a collective awareness and a return to real value.
3. Renewed focus on future-proof strategies
When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t compare it to anything that has come before. The pressure that comes with a situation like this has resulted in some significant changes. Clients are more willing to try new things, some that were previously impossible to get greenlit; this has mainly impacted technical solutions that unlock new strategies, such as profit bidding or optimisation.
Marketing shouldn’t be a guessing game. By having advanced modelling capabilities it becomes easier to understand what drives company revenue up: is it the product, the media, or the brand? Take attribution, for example, how can you optimise if you don't know where you should be reducing spend? Without strong attribution modelling, you will be lost in the dark when it comes to making decisions, especially at a time like this when you need clarity more than ever.
What the impact of coronavirus is showing us is that you can’t relax during good times. Companies need to focus on the long term, and take time to focus on future-proof strategies.
4. Supporting the advertising ecosystem
I’ve found the response of U.K. advertising to coronavirus to be hugely inspiring. This pandemic is the biggest challenge I’ve seen our industry face in my career; in terms of jobs, livelihoods, and the dramatic change in consumer behaviour. Despite that, the industry’s strengths — creativity, entrepreneurialism, and sheer desire to produce brilliant work — has seen countless examples of advertising that has still connected, emotionally and powerfully, with audiences.
I think we’re learning as we go about how to advertise through this period, but we know that advertising is a key engine of the economy and that our industry will be central to how every market rebuilds, both economically and socially. Right now, we all need to learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t work, and consider how we support the advertising ecosystem to make sure all of its components survive intact.
5. Adaptation has been key
From FMCG to financial services, we have seen many inspiring responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Some sectors have cut back activity entirely, while others have maintained, or even increased, theirs.
Adaptation has been key, and some brands have pivoted to support the national effort. Tesco’s ‘Keeping You Safe’ campaign helped inform and reassure consumers, and when restaurants closed, McDonald’s moved to carry government messaging on their owned channels and redistributed surplus food to local communities. Mondelez adjusted campaigns to be sensitive to vulnerable groups and repurposed their 3D printing technology to help print medical visors.
Everybody has had to adjust to the changes in consumer behaviour. Marketers have needed greater flexibility in media planning and buying at a time when businesses cannot commit long-term.Trust in advertising is crucial, and the tone of voice should be genuine and helpful. Brand owners have reacted exceptionally quickly to the crisis, and great ads were created in record time. This innovation might inspire new ways of working in the future.
6. Rethinking the company culture
The outbreak of the coronavirus is a game-changer. Even the most reluctant players, who thought about going digital in a long-term perspective, must now act fast. A great example is Biedronka, the largest supermarket chain in Poland. They teamed up with Glovo, an on-demand courier service enabling consumers to buy their products online and have them delivered from selected stores across 10 cities.
We’ve been living in the state of VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Some companies are well-aware of this and have great leaders who shape their organisations proactively. For them, the coronavirus outbreak is just another wave in the perfect storm. You could be the greatest forward-thinker in the world but unless your organisation is supported by the proper culture, your strategy is just a piece of paper. The coronavirus outbreak is an opportunity to rethink the culture of your company.