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Blog  |  April 16, 2020 |  3 min read
What choice does an advertiser have during a global pandemic?
Alan Ngai

Alan Ngai

These are unprecedented times for the world. The world as we know it has changed overnight.

The media world has inevitably shifted and evolved as quickly as the virus has spread. So what have advertisers done during this dramatic period of change?

From my observation, there have been three approaches.

  1. Hide
  2. Stagnate
  3. Adapt

Some brands have chosen to completely retract or pause their marketing activity to avoid negative exposure which seems to have been the choice of many. While some brands have not changed their approach at all and continue to spend as usual!

However, the best approach in my opinion is for brands to empathise with their customers and adapt to the unfolding situation.

There are no direct historical comparisons that can be made with this global pandemic. In fact, the closest scenario we have for comparison are past global recessions. Seeing which brands were able to adapt in the past and emerge stronger from recessions allows us to learn from their success.

Brand adaptation takes on various guises; at its core though is a brand’s messaging. Being current and empathetic to the consumer can go a long way as we have seen with some fine examples from McDonald’s, Burger King, Nike or indeed the British Government. Delivering a meaningful message to consumers is the embodiment of what every brand aims to achieve; naturally they want to connect with their audience on an emotional level.

Bidstack and Codemasters delivered PHE’s ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ message in DiRT Rally 2.0

There may be no restaurants or sport stores open on the high street but communicating empathetically with the consumers during a lockdown reminds us of all of the delights of the day to day life we look forward to returning.

The other great adaptation I have observed is where brands are marketing.

Brands who have spent heavily in the past on out-of-home and print have been quick to withdraw their budgets. With major sporting and seasonal events being suspended, it has caused major disruption for the OOH and print industries respectively. There are brand safety concerns with most media outlets reporting on the pandemic. While UGC (user generated content) is volatile at the best of times and even more so in the current climate.

So where should that spend go?


There’s now only one media channel where you can be sure of reaching a scalable audience within brand safe and non-hostile environments. During periods of uncertainty, we all look for a safe haven and an escape. Gaming has always been a place of escapism and safety that gives people a break from the concerns around them.

The most agile brands have observed this and understood the sudden shift in consumer habits and have aligned their brand messaging to the appropriate media channel.

The great Sir Martin Sorrell, forecasts slow upcoming quarters with a sharp increase in Q4. If his forecasts come true, this will mean it’ll be a battleground for brands to cut through the noise come Q4 to try to make up ground on their losses during the pandemic.

I expect the wisest brands to be strategic and creative in their approach and in the meantime to position themselves front of mind with the consumer before what could be a manic rush for the world of media come Q4.

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