COVID-19 and advertising in crisis

COVID-19 and all that Jazz for advertising.

It’s only been a month since the COVID-19 crisis emerged from China and our lives and business-as-usual have changed in very unusual ways.

Coronavirus Briefing Flash Report

The outbreak of Coronavirus has unexpectedly and dramatically affected all our physical social and shopping habits.

According to the Covid-19 Community Mobility reports by Google, in Greece only there has been 80% less mobility to Retail & Recreation places (restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theaters), 41% less mobility to Groceries & Pharmacies (grocery markets, food warehouses, farmers markets, specialty food shops, drug stores, and pharmacies) and 53% less mobility to Workplace.

Social distancing measures have also helped many other activities to flourish, new habits to develop and demand for some products and services to rise.

Mobility to places of Residence has been notably higher, up by 20% in Greece. As a result, there has been a rapid growth in online shopping (+44% in Greece) and a big shift in consumer habits. We saw an increase in distance working, as well as higher conduction of distance activities. Online grocery and pharmaceuticals shopping, entertainment services like Netflix and teleconference services rise dramatically. People also returned to traditional home cooking. The list is big and the whole of this situation very dynamic.

Advertising in the Covid-19 era

The implications for the economies are many and the business world is facing some unprecedented challenges globally. Advertising could not stay untouched.

According to eMarketer, global advertising spend is predicted to be reduced by 20.3 billion, when a 7% rise was expected. Events and Out Of Home (OOH) advertising has been affected the most. Digital advertising also decreased, as seen below:

what advertisers are doing to respond

To advertise or not to advertise?

A new economic crisis is upon us and it’s predicted to be harsh. In light of this, many businesses instinctively have reduced or cut advertising budgets, which may even sound like a totally sane decision.

Is it? Let’s take a more dispassionate look.

Henry Ford quote

Obviously, there should be adjustments to marketing strategies and budgets. But just ceasing all of your actions or, on the contrary, keep business as usual could make you seem somewhat tone-deaf. How would this be perceived by your inside and outside stakeholders?

What you need to think now is long-term. The crisis will sooner or later pass. How do you want your brand to be perceived then? What do your customers need the most right now and how can your brand offer it?

Examine, analyze and adjust.

Let’s use Maslow’s Theory as a tool to try and figure this out:

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs
Source: Wikipedia

In order for someone to move upwards in the pyramid, one must fulfill the needs for survival in the lower tiers. These include food, water, warmth and rest. We must also cover our “Safety Needs”, meaning our need to feel secure and safe.

In the days of Coronavirus, many of us find ourselves in a position where we struggle fulfilling the needs at the three lower tiers, our very own survival. This situation demands empathy, careful tone of voice, compassion and real support. We, as businesses, need to give back to our community and we need to do it genuinely.

Obviously, businesses need to survive the crisis too, and it’s ok for you to continue promoting your services and products. Especially if your offering is on high demand right now, you ought to try and boost sales. But you also need to be careful so as you are not seen as opportunistic.

Consider where your customers are at the moment, in Maslow’s pyramid.

Are you a B2B company whose customers business actual livelihood is at stake? Or are your customers trying to meet their “Safety” or the “Belongingness & love needs”?

When we define this, we need to think about what we can do to help them satisfy their needs with our products, services or expertise. We need to add value and provide them with solutions and comfort.

Adjust your product or service

Examine your product and if it makes sense for you to move to the virtual, examine how you are are going to do it, then go for it. For example, if your business is service-based or you normally host events, transition to the virtual using apps like Zoom, Messenger, Skype or BlueJeans.

If you are a brick-and-mortar shop consider setting-up your own e-shop or for a faster/cheaper solution start with a Facebook or Instagram Shop. You can also try popular marketplaces, like e­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Bay and Etsy.

And even if you don’t fall in any of the above, you can still add value to your offering with private online groups or live broadcasts where you and your customers come together, you offer your expertise, provide free service or even charge a small fee, if they can afford it. You might not be able to profit now, but your customers will keep engaged with you, they will appreciate your efforts and bond even more with you. This will be remembered and could be profitable in the long run (don’t just think short-term, remember).

When you figure out how you can provide to your customers with your new product or service, don’t forget to use Social Media to leverage your offerings.

Create the right content

The tone of voice is very important here. If you need to, pause for a while and take the time to re-think your content strategy.

Being in the lower tiers in Maslow’s Pyramid people are now in fear of their safety, health and livelihood. You need to rethink how you can help them solve some of their problems with your content, which ideally should also be relevant to your product.

There are many brands that do this right. Here are some brilliant examples.

Greece From Home

The tourism sector has been hit hard globally. When you are required to stay home and travel becomes prohibited, tourism & outdoor leisure naturally is put aside.

So, how can you provide value if you sell a travel destination or a leisure experience? One way is to offer content that will help your audience miss you less.

Greece, one of the most popular touristic brands, has done this right with Greece From Home a brilliant initiative of the Ministry of Tourism in cooperation with the Greek National Tourism Organization and Marketing Greece, that aims to offer people from all over the world meaningful content about Greece.

Greece as a tourism destination has multiple audiences. On the one hand, we have tourists from all over the world and on the other, we have professionals in the Tourism Sector. Both share similar concerns related to needs for belongingness & love but they are also very concerned about the survival of their businesses. Tourists who love Greece can’t physically visit it right now but with #GreeceFromHome they can connect virtually with their favorite destination and everything that comes with it, being the food and the culture.

They can watch famous Greek chefs cooking their favorite recipes online, virtually discover the best of Greece, learn more about Greek mythology and much more. Content that helps them fulfill their belongingness and love needs.

At the same time professionals can be directed to free online courses that will help them enhance their business skills, while they stay at home, which they can put in action when the crisis is over.

Meanwhile, many other businesses in the tourism industry are letting their stakeholders know how their businesses respond to the crisis with flexible cancellation policies, greater discounts, emergency measures etc.

Marriott International

Marriott International is an excellent example of how a big company can show their human person. Marriot’s President and CEO of Marriott International, Arne Sorenson, addresses the situation in all honesty, in a compassionate and reassuring tone with a very personal message.

Also, the content on their social media has an appropriate comforting, reassuring and positive tone.

Screenshot of Mariot International Instagram Account

Innocent Drinks

Innocent Drinks is another brand that uses the right content to provide comfort and add a sense of community, belongingness and love to their customers.

Although the quirky and fun tone of Innocent Drinks has not changed due to the Covid-19 Crisis, their content has adapted. For instance, they give ways and solutions on how to deal with boredom while staying and working from home.

Screenshot of­­­­­­­­­­­ Innocent Drinks Instagram account
Click for more Innocent Drinks content


Glastonbury Festival

The popular British Music Festival has been canceled for 2020 due to Coronavirus.  This was first addressed with a personal message from Emily and Michael, the organizers of the event, and a compiled list of FAQs. This follows the ethics of the great community of Glasto and the business is showing transparency and responsibility.

Their social media are also there to support the community and relieve their sadness for not being able to attend their beloved event. A beautiful example.

Glastonbury Instagram Post

Glastonbury Instagram Post

Genuinely be available and helpful

During the lockdown, people are online more than ever. They have serious concerns regarded their own safety and livelihood and it is possible that they have less spending power or they might be more hesitant to buy. But they also have a need to support, be supported and bond, while also time to read, watch and connect.

In times of crisis, to stop promoting your business is not the best thing to do even if sales are compromised. Though it’s time adjust, offer, support and work towards the best for your future.

Sure, there are obstacles but there are also new opportunities. Without being or looking opportunistic with human misery or others’ misfunctioning, look for ways to offer value to your customers and stakeholders.

Brands and people who do will be remembered after the crisis for all the good reasons. Because in crisis they had been our company. They showed compassion. They offered solutions to our problems.

Think about it:

Aren’t you going to trust those who helped you out more during the tough times? The grocery shop that made everything possible to bring your necessities to you or just did everything possible to serve you in the best manner? The hotel that showed flexibility and transparency and was there to make all the necessary arrangements to ease things out for you? The personal trainer that genuinely cared to train you from distance, so as you retained your strength and physique, while you couldn’t go to the gym?

So, stay in touch. Provide comfort. Provide solutions. Be pleasant. Be helpful. Be genuine.

Adjust your product, your content, your communication channels, the whole of your marketing mix and once you are ready, get out there (just kidding, #stayhome and go on Social Media) to communicate it.

Image of Playstation post on Instagram