Advertising during COVID-19: Should I or Shouldn’t I?


By Raina Roberts, Sales Manager, EMEA

2020 will be a year for the history books and one I’m sure we aren’t close to forgetting. There are currently over 2m confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over a third of the global population is subjected to some form of lockdown, at the time of writing this.

Some sectors, such as travel, hospitality, and real estate, have certainly suffered while others, like e-commerce, are still faring well so far. Those of us in the media industry are certainly seeing the effects with many advertisers pulling budgets away from OOH or pausing all marketing spend completely while they regroup and assess whether they should be advertising. The ethical question behind this makes senses – people are losing their jobs, businesses are going bust and, worst of all, people are dying. But there is a flip side to this, one that marketing leaders should absolutely be considering.

There are a plethora of resources out there all advocating for the same thing: Advertisers, do not pull the plug on all your marketing efforts. Pausing to regroup is, of course, a must. In fact, to those advertisers who are continuing with the same messaging/ branding they had at the start of the year, you should absolutely pause and assess whether this messaging is not only still relevant, but is it still appropriate.

Catching your breath as a business and a team to refocus is, of course, the way to go. But abandoning all marketing efforts now is not and many resources point to this. It can be overwhelming sifting through all the advisory content being published surrounding this and with the news changing daily, it’s not a fun task. Below is a five-pointer list, by no means exhaustive, of all the advice I have come across including some of the most poignant arguments for keeping advertising switched on and advice on key areas to focus on.

  1. SOV / SOM – while an immediate reduction in spend may seem like the most intuitive thing to do, some studies are pointing to the opposite. In fact, Roland Vaile, who wrote Marketing in the American Economy, demonstrated this by tracking those advertising spends of 250 companies during and after the Great Depression in the 1920s. Those who decreased spend saw a fall in revenue both during the recessionary period and for the following 3 years while those who increased saw an uptick, both in the immediate moment as well as beyond. The Ebiquity Viewpoint (below) is a great resource for looking into this even further
  2. Consumers’ long-term memory – now, more than ever, is the time to reinforce brand loyalty. Going dark will not help you do that. We have all seen an iteration of the ‘What did you do during COVID-19’ meme – usually a drawing of kids asking an adult figure to share their heroic exploits of how they helped during the global pandemic of 2020. The adult usually shares a negative story (ignoring isolation guidelines, for example) and the following image is the child insulting the adult. Don’t let your brand become that meme. Companies that remain present and actively supporting their consumers are those that will reap the benefits in the long-term.
  3. Adjust strategy – Perhaps your main revenue driver has suffered, and you don’t know if your business will survive this. Now is the time to be creative – what do your consumers need and how can you support this? Channel the Dyson’s of the world or the LuluLemons, who sent off an ‘the community carries on’ email to their consumers along with links to at-home yoga videos. More importantly, find your consumers where they are now. With masses of people working remotely and unable to go out, the shift to digital and TV is inevitable.
  4. Ideate the new normal now – think ahead. It’s clear we will not be going back to our old version anytime soon, if at all. How will society operate after this? What will recovery look like? And where will your business be then, what will you be bringing to the table? Companies that have thrived following past recessionary periods are those who kept communicating with consumers, and who were proactive rather than reactive.
  5. Publishers need you – we are all in this together now whether we like it or not and, while this may seem like an odd argument (why is this advertiser’s problem you might be thinking) it’s one with seriously frightening implications. UK NewsWeek recently published an open letter to advertisers stating that they risk losing £50m if advertisers continue pulling their budgets/ implementing strict keyword blocking. With the world turning to trustworthy news sources, now is not the time to turn our backs on them. If they can no longer bring in the revenue they will not be able to support their journalists and we will lose one of the key foundations of a free democracy.


Working with Trusted Media in Times of Crisis: Advertising and the COVID-19 Pandemic

How Marketing Leaders Can Manage the Coronavirus Crisis and Plan for the Future

‘Advertising Through a Recession’ – Ebiquity UK

The best marketers will be upping, not cutting their budgets

Newsworks UK Open Letter to Advertisers

There is no Business as Usual following COVID-19 

COVID-19: The Creative Fightback

IAB UK’s advice to advertisers regarding keyword adblocking


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