Home Opinions Brands can’t afford to go dark in the face of Covid-19

Brands can’t afford to go dark in the face of Covid-19

Marlene Grimm, Head of International Customer Success, TVSquared
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Covid-19 is unchartered territory for us all, impacting people across the globe and causing unprecedented disruption to businesses.

In the early stages of the outbreak, some brands put a short-term halt on advertising as they braced for the unknown and figured out how to proceed. But as many brands now realise, going dark isn’t an effective strategy with brand awareness nose-diving after only two weeks of not advertising on TV. Instead of waiting for the worst to be over, brands need to stay top of mind, while making sure their ad budgets are performing as efficiently as possible.


The power of playing the long game  

Where possible, brands should maintain as least a base level of ad spend, especially on TV, whether that’s through linear, over-the-top (OTT) or video on demand (VOD). TV has a dramatic halo effect so pulling campaigns will have a strongly negative impact on the performance of other channels such as digital and social. TV is a powerful brand builder, but by pausing ad campaigns brands can lose that hard-earned equity very quickly as consumers move on and forget about them.

Rather than focussing on short-term performance, brands must look to the longer term. By advertising at this turbulent time, brands can position themselves as strong, supportive and sustainable. An IPA study into advertising during an economic downturn found that cutting ad budgets only defends profits in the very short term and will ultimately weaken the brand, whereas investing to maintain share of voice results in long-term profitability that significantly outweighs any short-term reduction.

Of course, brands must consider their approach to advertising and potentially revise messaging. Covid-19 should not be used to shamelessly sell a product or service, but brands can communicate how they’re there to support customers and that they’ll still be there as the situation improves. Consumers want to see ads – a Kantar study reveals 92% of consumers think brands should continue advertising – but messaging needs to be sensitive to the current context. The pandemic is pushing consumers and businesses to drop the façade and be real, so brands that maintain authenticity in advertising will reap the rewards in the long-term.


Attribution makes TV accountable 

Rather than going dark, the focus should be on making TV budgets work harder so spend can be allocated in the most effective way. TV attribution was already in demand before Covid-19 but its adoption is accelerating as budgets tighten, allowing brands to measure and optimise TV across platforms including linear, OTT and VOD.

As cost optimisation becomes a priority, data and analytics for proof of performance will no longer be a nice to have, it will be a requirement to trade. The mechanics of traditional TV ad buying is changing, with this year’s Upfronts cancelled or postponed. The days where brands spend billions without knowing if it drives business outcomes are coming to an end. Brands will require TV spend to be easily and directly attributed to return on investment as standard, measuring whether ads reached the right audiences and if action was taken.

The ability to use real-time, accurate proof of performance to measure and optimise ad spend is vital when consumer habits are changing rapidly. Social distancing is driving new consumption behaviours, with viewers watching different types of content, at different times and via different platforms than they did a few months ago. Viewing habits will continue to evolve as the economic impact of the pandemic unfolds, so brands must use attribution to identify changing response patterns and dynamically adapt.

Preparation not hibernation, should be the philosophy of brands as they revise ad strategies. Now is the perfect time to try new things, testing out different types of content and distribution, including new programmes, genres, dayparts, networks and publishers. For example, social media platform TikTok just released its first linear TV ad. Brands that usually advertise around live sports content, for example, might want to explore the tried and tested re-runs that viewers are finding comfort in, or the local news content that is providing much-needed information.

Broadcasters such as Channel 4 are also making it as easy as possible for brands to advertise, increasing inventory availability and even assisting with production. Brands should take this opportunity to try different options, measure the results, and prepare for the post-pandemic bounce back when consumers are ready to spend.

Despite the turbulence of Covid-19, now is not the time for brands to go dark, but to deliver appropriate and supportive messaging that will keep them top of mind and lead to long-term profitability. Pandemic-related budget tightening is expediting the evolution of TV advertising into an optimisable performance channel with always on attribution and real-time insight, where brands can truly determine return on investment for each and every impression or TV spot.

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