As businesses scramble to adjust to the spread of COVID-19, some are halting their online advertising, according to Search Engine Land. But pausing online advertising could be a big mistake. Instead, businesses should consider how they might need to change their online advertising approaches.
In fact, people are engaging online more than ever as practices such as social distancing take hold. For example, as discussed in Digiday, at least one agency reports big upticks in online engagement with Instagram content as people spend more time online. Vodafone reports internet usage surging by as much as 50 percent in some countries. And audience engagement online will only increase.
Our advice to advertisers:
- Don’t go dark during the COVID-19 outbreak. Do adapt your content to be appropriate for the times we are living in (see our tips below). But going dark will hurt you in the long run, especially after the crisis subsides.
- Navigating a fast-changing environment. Your customers’ lives have changed dramatically. But don’t assume that they want to ignore you as they manage that change. Depending on what kind of business you are in — online streaming, say, or online commerce — they may welcome hearing more from you as they practice social distancing. (In fact, when it comes to getting the news during COVID-19, people are more likely to trust a company over the government or media, according to Edelman.)
Considerations for Advertisers to Keep in Mind
The irony of the current coronavirus upheaval is that people, social animals at heart, are being asked to maintain distance just when they need to feel connected, even reassured, the most. Brands that continue their outreach will want to think about the following as they pursue their campaigns:
- Look at the content you are sending and be prepared to adapt it. Are your offers in sync with what people need right now? For example, it makes sense for a restaurant to ramp up advertising about the speed and effectiveness of its delivery services.
- Mind your tone. People don’t want to hear more gloomy reports of disruption. But an overly salesy message will flop. And any ad that seems like it is capitalizing on a health scare will backfire spectacularly. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. As Kristen Ruby, CEO of Ruby Media Group, wrote recently in Adweek, “If people are afraid, now is not the time to pretend they aren’t. Additionally, it is also not the time to market to a state of fear or panic.” But do be as re-assuring as you can. It is OK to let people know you are there for them, and it is OK to talk about steps you might be taking to help in a time of crisis. In addition, be careful about your use of visuals. By now your audience is already overwhelmed by news media stories with photos of people wearing face masks.
- Think ahead. You don’t want to be caught flat-footed when consumers shift their behaviors again as the current disruption subsides. And subside it will; not knowing when is different from not knowing if.
- Adapt to a new normal — for now. Every day brings changes that affect consumer behavior. As brick-and-mortar stores have elected to close their doors or reduce hours, consumer spending has declined. But as PMG reports, “Online traffic increases help pick up the slack against store closings, work from home operations, and social distancing efforts. We’ve seen upward ticks between six to 18% depending on the scenario.” Similarly, according to eMarketer, digital media consumption is expected to increase: “The spread of coronavirus is likely to boost digital media consumption across the board as people spend more time at home and communicate in person less.” Platforms such as YouTube are likely to experience a surge in use. How well are your online campaigns suited for viewing on these media platforms? How well is your brand suited to online shopping, period? (For a deeper perspective on how one business has adapted to disruptions over the years, read this Advertising Age article about how Walmart learned from disasters such as Hurricane Katrina to change the way it does business and markets itself.)
Contact True Interactive
As you wrestle with questions and the inevitable changes coronavirus brings to daily life— and the rules of engagement — don’t hesitate to reach out. We can help.