The relevance of online advertising during the coronavirus outbreak

By Guillaume Fernandez | Last update: March 17, 2020 | Advertising, Pandemic, Social Responsibility

It took far too long for the population to react to the threat that the Coronavirus is presenting. Yet, as of March 2020, we are finally all aware of the true threat that the Coronavirus is posing, whether on a health or economical perspective. Meanwhile, the importance of staying home and practicing “social distancing” in order to slow down its spread is gaining traction. In a time where everyone is isolated, the relevance of online advertising during the coronavirus outbreak is becoming another point of concern for all professionals within the advertising world.

As a matter of fact, chances are that you’re most likely reading this article from home, especially if you’re a citizen of the numerous countries encouraging social distancing – at the exception of the French of course, who prefer to enjoy the sun sitting around The Seine river –Which I sympathize with since I am French myself.

So with all those people either working from home – or sitting tight awaiting for new instructions, what are the appropriate measures to take in respect to advertisers? One legitimate consideration would be to look at the changes in online media consumption: is it fair to assume that advertisers are going to step in with more targeted campaigns, or should we expect them to make drastic budget cuts, by the likes of the ones we witnessed during the financial crisis of 2007–08?

A Rapid Change in Online Consumption Patterns

First, let’s look at the numbers: with everyone staying home – combined to the mass cancellations of all major events as well as the closing of numerous shops, hotel, bars and other businesses – looking at the changes in online activities is paramount to any decision makers ready to pull the trigger on their upcoming online campaigns:

Aside from ads rolled out by governments all around the world aiming at raising awareness while ensuring that the population is adopting precautionary measures, it remains rather quiet when it comes to seeing how big brands are responding to the event through their advertising strategy. As a matter of fact, if we look at the online activities and forecasts in China, where it allegedly all began:

“Some industry sources are predicting annual advertising growth rates in China will fall from 7% growth in 2020 to 3.9%. This forecast was also based on seeing a slower performance on ad spend growth in 2019, as well as the likely pull back on spending from some brands. Sources said that despite this, there are still areas of strong growth and are forecasting e-commerce advertising spend to grow by 17.7% and social media spending to rise by 22.2%.”, according to The Drum.

To sum that up, the overall online ad spend is expected to decrease – except for a few verticals for which online advertising is still relevant. This prediction makes even more sense considering that 14% of businesses surveyed in China said that they were moving their budget from offline to online media, and it is fair to assume that those trends will have soon picked up in many other regions.

Different Verticals Affected in Different Ways

So what are the type of companies for which it remains interesting or even profitable to keep on advertising? According to the Financial times:

These trends are reflected within our own company portfolio, where we see numerous brands using our tools to automatically adapt their video ad variations to each of their target audiences. What’s even more significant is the fact that most those active accounts are owned by companies belonging to the e-learning industry, or advertise smartphone gaming apps or streaming services – to mention just a few.

With everyone stuck at home, it makes sense for such advertisers to maintain or increase their advertising efforts – thus remaining relevant in the pursuit of both engagement and awareness. Not only this, but it also ultimately translates into sales.

Such companies are not the only ones to “benefit” from the current situation. E-commerce platforms are also seeing an increase in their ad spend (+17.7% compared to last year). Not only their advertising maneuvers make a lot of sense right now, but it also is a surefire way for them to ensure long term benefits, whether through customer acquisition and/or retention.

According to Guido Derkx, manager at Storyteq – commenting on the company’s portfolio activities: “We saw an instant impact on media results for some of our clients working in the e-learning industry and gaming apps industry, thanks to the conjoint activity of maintaining advertising processes while creating more tailored video ad variations, all performed in a commercial and socially responsible way. 

Social Responsibility and Public Interest

Whether or not advertisers find short-term benefits in maintaining or strengthening their online ad strategy, there is a lot to gain as long as those advertisers show enough subtlety in their ad copy in order to avoid being perceived as opportunistic. Trying to leverage the situation for sales generation would be quickly noticed by their audience and would eventually damage the brand, especially in such challenging time.  

On a humanitarian perspective, all of us could use some more encouragement, messages of hopes and optimism, especially coming from the brands that we follow and look up to. Surely, advertising budgets always need to be justified, and the commercial impact of such maneuver wouldn’t be immediate. However, displaying social responsibility and public interest would surely have its long-term ramifications, as it has been seen before.

According to Cheuk Chiang, chief executive for greater north Asia at DAN, “There is a bank of studies from previous downturns to show that increasing investment sustains brand long-term growth. Our econometric modelling consultancy D2D has shown that there is compelling econometric evidence to support the argument that advertising has a long-term impact on sales.”

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This is even more pertinent in a time where the term “ad fatigue” is becoming increasingly relevant: how would the audience react to a message that is genuinely benevolent instead of the expected commercially opportunistic move? Here at Storyteq we firmly believe that brands should align their communications with what is in the audience’s interest, the best ads should be tailored to the audience and add some form of value. Thankfully, we’ve seen times and times again that smart advertisers often understand that commercial intents and public interest do not have to be mutually exclusive. After all, the most memorable ads out there are the ones that are statements of the functional, emotional and self-expressive benefits delivered by the brand that provides value to the target audience.

This advice is shared by many, including Chris Stephenson, regional head of strategy and planning, PHD APAC: “In developing a response, it is important to be sensitive in brand messaging to the situation – a brand should look to align their communications so that it’s in the public interest versus pushing messages for sales generation. As ever, brands should follow media consumption patterns to optimize media splits and take into account the context of placement as well as absolute reach potentials of increased home video or digital media consumption. […] Above all, brands should respond authentically based on their brand positioning, values and tone of voice,”

Here again, this is something that some of our clients understand. Our own Guido Derkx chimes in: “Some advertisers are currently using our platform to generate different video ads leveraging different messages, and we’re pleased to see that there’s a “social responsibility component” in most of them.”

Now is a Good Time for Advertisers to Step Up

Whether you work for a brand or an agency, the current events shouldn’t prevent you from taking the appropriate measures when it comes to advertising. Far too many companies are freezing all their online activities, yet it is becoming clear that the consumers’ physical isolation is already translating into increased online activities. People all around the globe are preparing for a long period of lethargy, and advertisers surely add value to this situation.

Now may be the right time for brands to step in and leave a long lasting impression through their advertising activities.


PS: The Storyteq team is currently shaping up its content calendar for the year 2020, because yes, we’re going to get involved into creating good – quality content – relevant to anyone working within the video advertisement industry.

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