If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that adaptability is needed not just to thrive, but also to survive. This has certainly been true in business, where the mettle of marketers has been thoroughly tested since the start of the pandemic.
Covid-19 necessitated change at breakneck speed for brands. Priorities shifted, consumers began to behave – and feel – differently, and marketing strategies had to turn on a penny to accommodate the state of flux brought about by various lockdowns.
To delve into this further, Thinkbox – the UK marketing body for TV advertising – commissioned Work Research to explore what the Covid-19 crisis really meant for marketers.
At the end of 2020 they conducted interviews with 12 senior clients, who reflected on the pandemic’s impact on their businesses, and revealed their perspectives on what changes they foresaw in their approach to marketing throughout 2021 and beyond.
Six clear themes emerged from the research (there’s also a short film summarising each theme, which you can you view at Thinkbox).
Tuning in to the mood of the nation
The Covid-19 crisis created a distinct need for enhanced social awareness, as advertisers were required to tune in sensitively to the emotional state of the nation.
Marketers quickly had to assess the appropriateness of their messaging as the world turned upside down – and kept on changing. Tone became a critical factor and many marketers talked about the pressure of empathetically reflecting the national mood. Broadcasters also quickly adapted with virtual programming and socially distanced audiences. TV advertising gave many brands a way of aligning themselves with what the public were going through.
Ben Newbury from Yorkshire Tea highlighted the position that many advertisers found themselves in: “We always had to take that healthy sense check of ‘What’s really going on?’ And [we knew] we were going to get this right or wrong before we pressed go. It paused a lot of stuff that we made. We held it, and we held it, until we felt the time was right to go live.”
Brand and response
The balance between brand and response was brought into sharp focus by Covid-19. Advertisers were forced to rethink their campaigns, often at incredibly short notice – firstly because the hard sell no longer seemed appropriate, and secondly because trust and mental availability became even more crucial in the post-Covid world. It made sense that marketers turned to the channels that consumers were most likely to see and trust. Payback was also crucial as brands needed to generate immediate sales but also shore up their brand health in the longer term, to withstand any future lockdowns.
Simon Wallis from Domino’s summed it up the attitude to marketing during Covid-19: “We used three guiding principle as some kind of compass. First: keep serving our customers and looking after our people. Second: build brand preference and look after our communities. And third: ensure that the brand comes out of the crisis stronger than it went into it. In other words, take actions today that our team members and customers will remember for a lifetime.”
Reach and growth
One of the most radical shifts Covid-19 instigated was in consumer behaviour, particularly when it comes to purchasing. For many advertisers, a positive benefit of lockdown was a growth in their consumer base as customers either chose, or were forced, to deviate from their usual brand preferences and try something new. The inevitable challenge is how to make those changes stick – or win back the customers that had been lost due to the pandemic. This challenge is causing marketers to refresh their thinking around mass reach, their distinctive assets, and light consumers in 2021.
Amy Butterworth from Tesco highlighted how things have shifted: “Targeting really changed from a sub-segment of society to everyone who does a shop – no matter where to be honest – everyone that needs to buy food, so basically the whole population.”
The pace of brand change has been unparalleled since lockdown started. One client described it as “10 years of change in one”.
Evolution went into overdrive, leading to many brand initiatives that were previously unimaginable. Ultimately, businesses changed because people changed – and the effects weren’t just limited to advertisers. Innovation was also at the heart of the broadcasters’ agendas. New programme formats, ways of watching and an increased use of rich back catalogues meant that TV stayed relevant for both audiences and advertisers as everyone adjusted to the pandemic way of life.
Gayle Noah, from L’Oreal, said: “We’d already started on the e-commerce journey many years ago, but I would say that Covid-19 really accelerated our plans by about three years. So within a matter of weeks we had activated a lot more platforms, channels and retailers to start driving e-commerce.”
All media are not created equal. Different media channels signal different qualities about the brands that advertise on them. The importance of trust, quality and brand strength has been amplified throughout lockdown.
These signals are entrenched in TV – and its advertising – and help explain why the medium was so valued throughout the pandemic. TV was viewed as a reliable and effective vehicle for building brand awareness and trust on a mass scale. It was also unique in its ability to help people feel good again due to its ability to harness the power of positive emotion. These attributes were of huge benefit to advertisers throughout lockdown.
Chris Ladd from Nationwide, said: “I can’t believe there won’t be some long-term benefit from us having market presence in the medium that has always given off a sense of trust and stature.”
Nicole Greenfield-Smith is research content lead at Thinkbox, the UK’s marketing body for television. Greenfield-Smith has commissioned, managed and worked across virtually every one of Thinkbox’s research projects – many award winning – since she joined the company back in 2006. She began her career in media after completing her Masters degree in Research Consultancy. She has worked for several organisations including Ebiquity, Flextech Television, The BBC and Accenture before landing the role at Thinkbox and finding her spiritual home.
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.