With the wake of Covid-19, we are navigating through an uncertain time. The breakout of Corona Novel Virus brought the global economy to its knees- from large business sectors to neighbourhood small businesses this pandemic didn't discriminate.

As the country wide lockdown continues, a fundamental shift in consumer buying pattern and media consumption is observed. The advertising space is witnessing a sudden surge in digital content consumption like never before (social media, online gaming and OTT platforms) and  increased TV viewership (40% or more compared to pre-Covid period), advertising is being subdued.

To survive the negative sentiment and economic slowdown: Advertisers across industries are responding differently to the situation. Few took a step forward to build the brand name by highlighting their efforts towards combating the situation. Marketers are also trying to  proactively reach out to the consumers confined inside their home.

Slump in Ad Volume

The latest tranche of TV viewership and ad-volume data revealed by BARC India (Broadcast Audience Research Council of India) shows that ad-volumes took a dunk of 26 percent in week 14 of  2020 (from April 4 to April 10) as compared to the time before COVID-19.

News channels saw marginal drop in ad volumes as they continued to grab eyeballs. Movie channels experienced an ad volumes drip by 43%, as did kids channels. Music, and youth channels made it to the top of the list with 58% and 52% dip in ad volumes respectively.

English entertainment channels (19%) are the only ones to see an increase in ad volume. All other languages experienced huge marginal ad volume drops- Tamil entertainment channels (52%), Hindi movie channels (49%), Bangla entertainment channels (47%) and English movie channels (1%).

All advertiser categories hit a slump as compared to the pre-COVID-19 period. Except for essential goods brands that have had an upswing of ad volumes, since April 1. The graph of social ad volumes too enjoying an uphill curve.

As of April 10, total advertiser count has been reduced from 1387 to 1042, during lockdown. However the report put forward by BARC indicates that ad volumes may pick up  again when lockdown is lifted.

Advertising In Time of Covid-19: Dos And Don'ts

Marketers have postponed or cancelled their regular campaigns and films that would have been perceived as inappropriate to run in current times. For instance, ads involving crowded cafes or bars with people hugging, kissing and feeding each other, where in reality social distancing is crucial to survive. It’s also a good time to stop sending push messages to consumers about holiday offers.

But distribution of social-distancing themed public service ads and pandemic themed films is being encouraged. Coca-Cola started the trend with a billboard in Times Square. Many brands followed the same path and came up with their own rendition.

FMCG and pharma companies took appreciative measures to launch hygiene products including sanitisers. This list includes Dabur, CavinKare (in Rs 1 sachets) and Zydus Wellness-owned Nycil. In response to the government’s notification on price cap, well known sanitizer makers such as Hindustan Unilever (Lifebuoy), Reckitt Benckiser (Dettol), ITC (Savlon), Godrej and Dabur dropped their prices up to 70% .

Uncertain Time, Innovative Measures

The question still remains, What should advertisers do in the current situation? According to experts, there are few ways in which Indian advertisers can rejig their strategies in order to get through this unprecedented time.

Brand building: With Increased TV & OTT viewership and reduced advertiser clutter this is the ideal time to work on brand building. This can be executed by exploring higher ACDs (average commercial durations) with aspirational storytelling to be more noticable. As consumer promos, offers, etc. are on a backburner, budget meant for BTL can be redirected to deploy on media.

Focus on Communication: With consumers valuing safety above everything, advertisers need to make sure that messaging is appropriate and distinctive. Communication should be informative and helpful. Brands should build their messaging strategies around  the new core consumer values– safety, security, comfort and health. It is of utmost importance to ensure the brand image is not compromised..  

Plan Ahead: With no clear timeline visible in the horizon, by which we will emerge out of this pandemic, brands need to be prepared with different scenario-based planning assuming different timelines of recovery, changes in consumer behavior and modified budgets. To keep opportunity and reality balanced, planning is also required to be in sync  with business strategy, such as timing of non-essentials demand returning to peak levels, investments in brand building, allocation for bringing back the older imagery and recall levels, etc.

Long Term Strategy: This downtime can be used effectively to address long pending questions on beefing up digital, in terms of spends, effectiveness and capabilities.  Organizations should utilize this time to build up media knowledge across all levels, with special focus on digital, to enable better decision making in future.

The world is going to look different on the other side of COVID-19 as brands strengthen their muscles for creating, engaging, targeted digital experiences for their buyers. Advertisers that spend this time building end-to-end, personalized digital strategies are going to come out on the other end with a huge competitive advantage over others.