A few weeks back when the pandemic started, brands started coming out with rushed attempts to communicate to consumers. Some attempts worked, some didn’t, some only worked for a short time or for a small audience. Opinions amongst marketing experts varied from most understanding ‘well, nobody knows what’s going on or how to behave or what the right thing to say currently is’, to more critical ‘stop offering me empty gestures, like ‘we’re all in this together’’. All of the above is true and not true at the same time. It depends on when, where, amongst which segments, archetypes and demographics and so on. We decided to test a few different strategies and ask consumers about what they think of messages being communicated. It is worth mentioning that one thing everyone agrees on is that his is an unprecedented time (in case you haven’t heard:) and circumstances and therefore people’s attitudes to them change constantly and quickly.
In the past few weeks we have obviously seen an increase in the lockdown related communication. While there is a notion circulating in the marketing community that it’s pointless to test ads at present because the consumers are not in the ‘right mind space’. The market research community would strongly disagree! Ad testing can and should be done at this time. That is why we decided to check if we are right and test a few ads, some of which have not been tested before launch.
To advertise or not to advertise? That is the question many companies are asking right now. Is it wise to spend advertising money and if yes, how?
How people feel about ads during the pandemic.
It is interesting that people are open to ads which reference Coronavirus to some degree or another. Over a half saying that they are happy to watch sentimental ads where people come together during the pandemic. On the flip side, only around 30% said that they are tired of seeing ads related to the Coronavirus crisis. And only a third stated that they feel that it is unethical to show ads right now solely to promote products and services.
What appeals to people is companies doing something more tangible and meaningful, such as donations towards the crisis relief.
So if you are going to reference the crisis, Coronavirus or the lockdown in your current comms, think about the ‘so what’ element that you want people to come away with.
How companies respond.
We were curious about what marketing activities companies have been running since the start of the crisis. The responses ranged from ‘freezing all marketing activity, i.e. do nothing’ especially for those industries which suffered the most, such as travel, so they can focus on their employees first (one should hope); to actively participating in the life of the community and donating advertising spend to support the government and front line crisis related causes.
We have singled out 4 approaches during the lockdown, which by no means represent an exhaustive list. However, we took a few examples which we found interesting and which illustrate some distinctly different directions. Hopefully, it should provide some guidance for marketing in this new territory.
If you are at the stage where you are trying to understand whether or not to advertise right now, we can see that people are open to it as we mentioned above. However, it is crucial to get two things right: the message and the tone.
For each strategy we chose one ad or message to illustrate this particular way to deal with advertising during this crisis. So without further ado, let’s jump right into the categories:
- Don’t advertise. Donate advertising spend and / or funds to support the cause (Coca-Cola)
- Provide tangible support to specific groups and advertise it (EE)
- Call to action: get the community involved + financial support of specific trades / business categories things which help towards sustaining local economy (Budweiser)
- Convey emotional messages such as ‘We are all in this together’ though not backed by any clear ‘so what’ — either substantial offering or CTA, e.g. free subscription etc. (BirdsEye)
Approach #1. Coca-Cola. Move advertising spend to support the community.
Coca-Cola ‘We’re in this together’
We decided that this message from Coca-Cola would be a really good illustration for this approach. It was perceived positively by the majority of Brits. 72% said that way they feel about the Coca-Cola company has changed for the better. Many positive comments that it is a big responsible step for the corporation like that.
I thought that Coca-Cola was just a usual company with no awareness about their environment. But after the ad trying to encourage people has made me think they are more aware. Female, 23
They are putting their employees first before any financial gain. This makes the company even more respectable because they will be losing money anyway due to COVID-19. Employees will feel proud to work for the company. Male, 24
They’re doing a very positive thing when there is no real ‘call’ for them to do so. It makes them look good. Female, 33
Approach # 2 — EE. Provide tangible support to specific groups and publicise it.
EE, ‘A message for NHS workers’
EE had given a tangible offer to a particular group. They used their advertising space to share their activities. Generally people were positive about it, but of course the marketing tactic was obvious. Consumers expressed that as a company, especially one that isn’t amongst the industries which suffered they could have done more.
Brilliant what about those other key workers! People working in Tesco to make sure those nhs staff have food etc? Female, 24
It feels exploitative, as if EE are doing the minimal amount they can to portray themselves as caring, whilst shouting look at me.’ Male, 51
Appreciate they are giving something tangible to the NHS, although it is also marketing. Female, 55
Approach # 3 — Budweiser. Call to action: involve community + support of trades / business categories to sustain local economy
Budweiser, ‘Save Pub Life’
This was actually our favourite as it is a multi- tier initiative and has a particular CTA (Call to Action). Not only it is aimed at securing the future of the local economy for a particular industry (support local pubs) but also at maintaining their customer base, both B2B and B2C.
This was the most polarising communication with 45% saying they feel better about Budweiser. The ad is asking people to donate money which is a barrier for them. Moreover, the mechanism of the offer was very complex, resulting in misunderstanding of the message, making some angry. Complicated and unclear mechanics killed a great idea, while some found the overall idea of supporting local businesses appealing.
Besides not all people see beyond the immediate survival mode at present and it is hard to think about supporting the local business infrastructure. Some people are not in the position to respond to certain calls to action. Others feel the money should be better spent elsewhere.
Some picked up on the fact that what will happen to the vouchers if the pub will not survive. That’s a great thing to do although I’ve not seen this and people will worry that some pubs won’t survive and therefore lose their money Female, 38
There are far better causes needing our support, than this cynical attempt of Budweiser to capture business and protect its outlets. Male, 51
Cannot see the point of this as people should not be in the pub most of pubs need me are closed. Male, 58
What a great idea! It helps support the pubs while they are closed, and gives a bit of hope for some help when they re-open, and the fact Budweiser is matching the person’s purchase is great. Female, 55
A good idea but it is asking people to spend money on something at a bad time that they can use later. Male, 57
Approach #4. Birds Eye. Convey emotional messages such as ‘We are all in this together’ not backed by any clear ‘so what’
BirdsEye ‘What’s for tea?’
While people could relate to the emotional message in the ad and 50% said they enjoy seeing sentimental ads this shouldn’t be left at that. Out of all ads we have tested it had the least positive impact on the brand. People failed to see the ‘so what’ in it. There were helpful elements in the message, such as easy recipes for people to make their homestay more enjoyable or recipes that you can make with your kids to support lockdown entertainment ideas. But this did not come through. In our opinion, they could have benefited from a clearer CTA (Call to Action). The otherwise tired and overused notion of ‘we are all in this together’ worked better for Coca-Cola in our first example because it was backed by something more substantial. Like the creative director, Ryan Wallman said in one of his Tweets ‘Does anyone know if we’re all in this together? I haven’t seen any brands mention it.’ :)
It shows what people should be doing to protect themselves as well as advertising the company’s products. Male, 58
Same style video as usual. Ok, yes were all at home but we don’t want to hear about it 24/7. Female, 24
It’s a nice video and good that they are making it relevant but they aren’t putting any money into supporting the cause. Female, 38
They are advertising their products in the context of covid 19 but are not doing anything beyond there normal commercial activity. Male, 51