Brands shift ad spends to digital platforms to tide over COVID-19 crisis

There is a need to be creative and sensitive.

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: The emergence of COVID-19 has thrown the near-to-mid-term strategies of businesses off-track. Global media ad spending has been hit as well. According to industry experts, the long-term impact will be positive. However, the next quarter is going to be very crucial for the advertising world. spoke to industry stakeholders to get their feedback.

Havas Media Group CEO India and South East Asia Anita Nayyar says, “In the short-term, only the most necessary, topical and critical advertising will see the light of the day. There will be brands that will look at the situation positively and continue building in a comparatively non-cluttered environment.”

Brands have to be sensitive to people’s worries as well as that of manufacturers. The consumer is wary of buying, at the same time the manufacturer can’t produce and supply goods. Advertising, then, has to take into account these factors, too.

Lionsgate South Asia MD Rohit Jain believes that the impact is likely to last two to three quarters before returning to normalcy. “Unfortunately, for most advertisers at this point, it does not make sense to advertise when they can’t deliver or make available on the shelf. Outliers at this point are perhaps the personal hygiene industry and the media and entertainment industry where consumption has shot up.”

Dentsu Aegis Network India CEO Anand Bhadkamkar says that the advertising plans, which were under execution before the pandemic broke out, are consistently being evaluated by clients before execution. But, it is a wait-and-watch situation till 14 April when the lockdown is likely to be lifted and things can get back to normal. He feels that it would be a slow walk back to growth. However, he is sanguine about the long-term outlook. “As far as the Indian market is concerned it will bounce back. According to me, the long-term impact will be positive,” he says.

Even as the world practices social distancing, people are still connected through social media and that gives brands and agencies hope. 82.5 Communications chairman and chief creative officer Sumanto Chattopadhyay says, “Social media is helping brands work around media and production limitations and still reach out to consumers. This is a temporary surge for the medium, which will also have a long-term impact as brands get used to communicating this way.”

On the consumer front, people are locked down at home with genuine concerns about their health, safety, and even livelihood. In such a case, they do not wish to be bombarded with ads. Chattopadhyay adds, “In today’s time, a lot of regular advertising is irrelevant. Add to that the shutdown of newspaper printing and severe challenges in video production. Yes, media plans have to be rejigged.”

The advertising industry is quickly evaluating what is doing well and what is falling flat. In the wake of the pandemic, advertising firms are introducing swift changes in their media plans.

According to Bhadkamkar, clients are reviewing and revising media plans as the market situation unfolds. The evolving COVID-19 situation is compelling businesses to consistently evaluate their strategies. "Media plans which were conceptualised prior to the virus outbreak would not be relevant and effective in today’s uncertainty. The coming three weeks will be crucial for brands," he notes.

BARC India and Nielsen's data has revealed that a lot of viewing is taking place both on TV and OTT platforms. This opens up opportunities for ad spends in the digital medium. Bhadkamkar says, “People are getting used to more digital markets in terms of ad spends. The digital market will grow much faster as compared to what it was earlier.”

Lionsgate had plans for an OOH campaign but the pandemic has caused it to realign its focus by upping digital investments to engage with consumers and inform them about the latest offerings. “While we have a big release in April, John Wick 3, the first digital premiere, we are trying to optimise our creative and spend on digital to increase our reach and create top-of-mind recall. OOH would have further helped us widen the reach but, in such times, we are looking at higher impact properties on digital and strong showcasing on the partner apps,” says Jain.

The fraternity believes that this pandemic has also given an opportunity to rethink how various industries want to conduct the business. In every adversity, there is an opportunity. The 2008 recession taught marketers to find efficiencies with much lower spending. Today’s situation may relook at the need for physical movement in favour of online interactions. Warming up to ad spends on digital could be the long-term positive impact of COVID-19.

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