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Coronavirus Marketing

Brands trying to cost-cut should be wary about re-running ads

By Luke Southern, Managing director

March 30, 2020 | 8 min read

Cost control is key for brands right now but whilst re-running old or existing campaigns may feel like a quick fix in the current context it could be ill-judged if you are not reflecting the new reality for consumers in isolation.


Staying relevant

It is understandable that marketeers will want to minimise costs and expenditure during this time of uncertainty and therefore many brands may be considering or are actively running existing campaigns in the absence of new work (or the ability to get it made).

This can be a great way of saving money and time and keeping the brand active and front of mind for consumers however the cultural context of the ad within our new world reality must be considered before committing to do so.

Is it a good idea to run a campaign that shows kids in school uniform, people having parties in the park or gatherings beyond two people right now? I saw an ad earlier this week (brand not to be named) which presented what would have been a mundane view of normality a few months ago with families larking around in the park together but today feels like an idyllic vision of a future far away and it made me angry. It felt at best insensitive and at worst irresponsible.

Re-runs can feel misjudged, visions of the outdoors can feel like a tease. Many people already feel that we as brands/marketeers are pushing messages to them that they don’t want to hear and that we are often out of touch with reality. So, in this new reality how brands act – in actions, in communications and in business - will be under the microscope more than ever before. With that in mind, some considerations below on how to adapt and act in this uncertain immediate future.

1. Cultural context is key

Consider the mindset and behaviour of consumers right now. We are all adjusting to a new normal. What might have seem totally appropriate even just a week ago can feel painfully out of touch tomorrow.

Before you commit to new or run existing creative work think about its cultural significance and context for consumers and where necessary adapt messaging appropriately. Insights need to be in the here and now, not from six weeks of painstaking focus groups as presently immediacy is king in the mind of your consumer– they want to know how you are going to provide a product, service or information that will help them to live their life better and more easily today whilst in isolation – not your brand vision for the future.

2. Social first production

12-week campaign processes are not fit for purpose in this new world. In this current climate social and mobile are the primary points of entry for consumers, especially as they monitor the news, keep in contact with friends and seek entertainment online.

Brands need to ensure that the work they produce is made quickly and is reflective of the mood or demand at that specific moment in time.

This is a massive opportunity therefore for brands to get their social strategy and content fit for purpose. Right now many are using social to broadcast their trading statements, opening hours or commitments to support employees and customers but consider – with live production on hold – how animation, VFX, single person pieces to camera and audio can convey the message you want to get across and how your social content can play a helpful role for people right now.

DIY brands can be helping first time decorators to take their first steps to painting their house with useful tutorials, food brands can offer a series of how to’s for children learning to bake as part of their home schooling ‘creative/arts’ lesson from Dad in the afternoon and so on…

Not only does this sort of content continue to drive brand awareness but also increases positive sentiment, as you are not seen to be selling but genuinely helping the public. Take Joe Wicks for example, his nationwide PE lessons are a masterstroke. It will be interesting to see how many more people have bought his books off the back of this great initiative.

3. Be valuable

We talk about needing to build meaningful connections with consumers all the time and now we have a situation where actions need to convey this, not words.

Many brands are doing an excellent job of doing this already through the information they are providing or by re-assigning staff and production lines to help support the battle against this virus like Zara producing scrubs for hospitals in Spain or BrewDog making hand-sanitizer. The truth is that all brands can show their true value now – even in sectors that are not on the front line of supporting infrastructure, food retail and key workers.

Disney+ launched this week in the UK and in a knowing nod to the need to keep kids entertained has immediate made recently released films like Frozen 2 available on its service ahead of the normal schedule – a small gesture that will be appreciated by many parents/home schoolers that will need help filling the breaks between lessons and after daily exercise.

4. Think long term (and long form)

In the current situation, everyone is craving content – especially long form content, they can enjoy with friends and family, either all together or virtually. There is a huge opportunity for brands here but they must recognise that there needs to be a shift in perception of success during this time.

Brands should be thinking about the importance of and ability to make and tell longer form stories to earn attention from consumers who, in a few months-time when many of the new releases will be exhausted on the SVOD services and terrestrial channels, will be craving new content and this can come from brands.

The content that brands need to create must be not advertising but long form content that prioritises entertainment first, brand second, and puts a quality story front and centre. Ideally, this will warrant repeat viewing and which audiences will ultimately choose to spend time with (and maybe even money on). If you don’t believe me that brands can do this, just take a look at the last three years-worth of Grand Prix winners at Cannes Lions, in the Entertainment category.

Quality, long-form story-telling from brands that is completely at odds with the convention of a 60” spot including the 2019 Grand Prix winning – 5B a hard hitting 90 min documentary about the Aids epidemic in 1980s America and how a US FMCG brand (J&J) played their part to help the nurses cope and overcome the challenges.

How you act now as a brand will have a knock on effect on how you are judged by consumers in the long term so you should consider thinking about how you are charting and mapping out the story you may want to tell in a couple of years when reflecting on this moment in history and maybe commit this to a long form piece of programming.

Whilst this new reality is uncertain creating a mine-field of challenges and also potentially a wealth of opportunities for the most progressive, pro-active and compassionate brands and marketeers what is clear is that just taking creative and ideas from our old reality of just a couple of months ago and re-using them – whilst seemingly a good idea in the short term - could have unforeseen and damaging impact on your brand in the long term.

So think carefully before you act in this new reality. Don’t be the brand that in a bid to keep costs down today ends up looking out of touch and insensitive in our current reality which could leave your brand isolated when the world recovers and see consumers turning to your competition instead.

Luke Southern is managing director at Drum, part of the Omnicom Media Group.

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