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BizReport : Advertising : May 11, 2020

How to improve pandemic advertising strategy

Many brands are unsure how to move forward during the global, COVID-19 pandemic. Do they advertise? How do they advertise without offending consumers? How do they advertise in a way that isn't also taking advantage of the situation? These are only a few of the questions facing marketers and brands during this time; we asked an expert in the field how brands could begin moving forward.

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: For a lot of brands, it makes sense to pull back on advertising during events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you disagree with this?

Kasper Skou, CEO & Co-Founder, Semasio: I think this has a lot to do with the individual brand and what its marketing ambitions are. Does it make a lot of sense for large automotive brands to advertise at the moment as no one is buying this big-ticket item? On first pass, the answer seems to be no--however, you want to maintain the consumer connection and share of mind your marketing communications have earned you over the years. Otherwise, there is a very real risk that you will lose brand recognition and preference as your communicative connection with consumers is lost and competitors might continue investing into this connection.

Kristina: According to Kantar research, brands risk an overall decline in sales if they cut their ad spend during the pandemic. What should brands do so that they aren't seen as benefiting from a crisis like this?

Kasper: This extreme situation is a unique opportunity for brands to show consumers how they are weathering the storm and taking care of their stakeholders. For example, automotive manufacturers are retooling their factories to build ventilators, and luxury goods manufacturers are switching production to hand sanitizer, which is given to hospitals for free. If you have a genuine and substantial message of how you're making a difference to the world, this can have an outsized impact on consumers' perception of the brand.

At the end of the day, the key to marketing success during this crisis is a brand's ability to empathize with the consumer as she finds herself in completely new and highly disturbing circumstances. The consumer will be asking herself implicitly: "Do I feel the brand understands this situation? Is it genuinely trying to be a force for good for me, the people important to me and the world?" The stakes are high--get it wrong and it will be seen as profiteering, get it right and you can experience an outsized impact on brand perception. I believe the key is authenticity, that level of empathy and willingness to make a difference is very hard to fake.

Kristina: Is contextual advertising an answer for this problem?

Kasper: Contextual targeting is a means to an end, but it can help you find the right contexts for your message. It all comes down to the nuances of contextual understanding enabled by the technology you choose. At one end of the spectrum, you have simple, keyword-based solutions that scan pages for 'coronavirus' and 'COVID-19' to associate the page with this context. At the other end, you have truly contextual solutions, which enable you to detect semantic nuances in the content and choose the resonant over the dissonant ones. For instance, it would enable you to choose positive coronavirus contexts (of which there is thankfully a growing body) to place your message in, associating your brand with hope and showing how you've helped make a difference.

Kristina: What should brands be doing now about their existing advertising campaigns?

Kasper: I think the most important thing is to take a very hard look at them and ask: "Are these campaigns sensitive to the completely new reality consumers find themselves in?" Very probably the answer is no, in which case you should abandon them.

Instead, start with empathy and get creative. Show consumers how you're making a positive difference. Production quality is not what matters right now--authenticity, empathy and creativity are.

Kristina: Looking ahead to 3 weeks from now, what should they be doing?

Kasper: My two cents: start to show consumers how the brand will be a facilitator out of this situation and into something more resembling what we know. The new normal we could call it. Think about what you want to be to the consumer in this transition and new situation and start talking to her about it.

Kristina: And what about 3 months from now?

Kasper: Hopefully at that time, we will have a more stable situation, but it will not be the world we knew before the pandemic. That probably means your relationship with consumers is also a different one, and you have the chance to shape that. Start thinking about what you want to be to consumers in the 'new normal' and tell them. If that really makes a difference to us, you have an outsized chance to strengthen your connection with us. Is that profiteering? Not if you truly make a difference.

Tags: advertising, advertising strategy, COVID-19, marketing strategy, pandemic advertising strategy, Semasio

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