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The ad industry can save our high street

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Working in the advertising industry means you don’t often get to take the moral high ground. When I’m surrounded by nurses, teachers and social workers who spend their days looking after our sick, young and vulnerable, owning up to working in advertising can feel a little frivolous, especially when your biggest moan is that Cannes is cancelled.

We spend our working days finding new ways to sell products to an already over-burdened planet, and our track record on race, gender and age isn’t always great. Quite rightly, no one’s been clapping for the advertising industry on Thursday evenings.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mark Ritson when he says the predictions of ‘all change’ after Covid-19 are nonsense – but just for once, maybe the advertising industry could be one of the heroes?

Our local cinemas, book shops, theatres, boutiques, markets, clothes shops, car dealerships, restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs and even zoos have taken a massive hit. Closing so we could recover has taken a huge toll on the places we love, many don’t think they will recover.

From this week, non-essential shops are opening, as will zoos after a public outcry, and pubs and restaurants will be next. As customers, we need to wean ourselves off the home deliveries, Asos and Amazon and visit these businesses (as long as we are healthy and following the social distancing guidelines, of course). But what can we do as an industry?

We can advertise. For the last seven years I’ve written articles, commissioned studies and presented sales decks proving the power of advertising. How digital advertising can drive consumers to browse your website, visit your store and buy your product. So has every other marketer working for a technology platform, media agency or publisher. Advertising is effective, we know it works.

For now, we must push advertising that drives people into the stores, dealerships and restaurants we want to save. Let’s tell people about the new guidelines that are in place, which of their favourite pubs are back open for a pint or which book shops are dusting off the summer bestsellers. Let’s use the targeting, the push notifications, the video ads, the AI, all the optimisation tricks up our sleeves to get people back into stores and spending.

Brand building should be put on the back builder for now. The brands who kept spending during lockdown are going to reap their rewards as they enjoy the benefit of being top-of-mind. It’s time for a change of strategy towards drive-to-store campaigns. Let’s get the consumers back out for some well-deserved retail therapy.

The advertising industry can get the economy moving, we can do our bit to save our high street. Let’s be the good guys for a change.

Lauren Bigland is S4M's VP brand strategy & communications

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