Brands in the essential categories of health, hygiene and food are advertising in full swing during the coronavirus lockdown as there's an increased demand for essentials.
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As the world is going through a major healthcare crisis, it is obvious that the consumer’s focus is primarily on being safe.
Hence, it is very difficult for brands in the discretionary categories to get attention. And if they try too hard to market, it may sometimes be perceived as being insensitive.
However, for all other brands that are irrelevant in today’s setting, including auto sector, decor, durables, fashion, need to evaluate how they can stay relevant. If they stop advertising or communicating at this stage, they might lose out on 'brand recall' in a longer period.
Ambi Parameswaran, Founder of Brand-Building.com, said all brands that are irrelevant in today’s setting need to evaluate if they should go silent for three months and come back with new offerings a month before Diwali or should they maintain a lower level of visibility.
There is a possibility these brands might go off the consumers' mind till the time of Diwali and will have to spend a lot for a comeback.
“It is a difficult call. If a brand’s competitors are not in media, one can enjoy monopoly. But consumers may not even register that brand and if it is not careful, the same ad may cause dissonance. It is a tricky situation. Each brand has to take a call based on the merits of the case. The choice is to keep spending right through three months or save your breath for the big Diwali bash,” he suggested.
Apart from keeping the messaging subtle during the lockdown, what other options can be explored?
Mansoor Ali, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Hamdard, suggested brands should maintain an average engagement on digital and social media platforms. Depending on the category, they can indulge in some reminder/recall advertising on TV, focusing only on news and movie channels.
Investments in GEC channels should low as there is no new content as shooting has stopped, he added.
Ramesh Narayan, Founder of Canco Advertising, said that a non-essential brand need not be an irrelevant. Larger brands with a decent spend can make themselves visible on any news channel.
He suggested, “Everyone is eagerly watching news programmes. Getting their brand on the side or on the running band below should help. Also, they could use social media to disseminate important and verified local news (even smaller brands), locality-wise, that people are clamouring for these days. They can tie up with resident associations who are doing this job right now and present bulletins.”
As news is being consumed a lot more but is dominated by unhappy occurrences that enhance anxiety and fear, Pranesh Misra, Chairman and MD, Brandscapes Worldwide, said there is need for ad content that can make people smile. Non-essential brands that can leverage humour to make people smile in these times will get a lot more attraction and goodwill.
A serious issue like this must be handled with a lot of sensitivity. Over-exposure and loud communication may attract very negative reactions.
Ramakant Khandelwal, CMO of Payback, suggested it is not time to be aggressive and shout out from the rooftop.
“This is the time when brands should refrain from the traditional approach of high-pitched marketing to garner visibility. Instead, they must focus on core customer expectations, and treat every aspect with a lot of sensitivity. The best approach is to create communication that empathises with the issue at hand and places the brand in a subtle manner. If there is any nuance of the brand or product that is relevant to the context, it is best to use it in the communication,” he added.
Sales of brands that are not relevant in the lockdown are bound to slow down, which is inevitable. But an investment in the brand salience would pay rich dividends in the long run, experts said.
Khandelwal said apart from the basic educational campaigns around the virus, the most important thing to communicate is about the impact that the situation has on the business operations. And that is what these brands can communicate: how is the brand reacting to the situation and making efforts to ensure customer expectations are being met? What special efforts have they done to secure these things and how are they going above and beyond.
However, Ali said that terms like ‘top of mind’ and ‘recall’ have taken a completely different dimension in the current situation. In the face of a lockdown, basic essentials and survival are critical priorities on everyone’s mind, and that’s the reason why we see brands in the essential categories being advertised.
He added, “Most points of sale, i.e retail and e-commerce, are either shut, or focussing only on essentials. In such a situation, big spend advertising on TV/print for non-essentials is not very logical, as footfalls are minimal and the consumer is not focussed on lifestyle items. Advertising drives off-take through creating need and intent, and the consumer’s need is to fill the home with stuff that will help him sail through these 21 days. However, platforms such as digital/social media engagements can be kept alive as those are the mediums that are getting maximum click-throughs.”
Echoing the same view, Harish Bijoor, Founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., said brands that don’t belong to the category of "need and want" must stay out of the communication clutter for now.
“Times such as these are moments of war. In such a situation there is no space for brands that cater to the ‘desires and aspirations’ of people. I do believe they must stay quiet and keep a respectable distance from consumer communication. At the end of this long and dark tunnel of Covid-19, there will hopefully be brighter days. Those are the days to come back and advertise. Till then, stay still. Stay respectful,” he added.