Advertising in crisis: Strategies & Tactics to Advertise and Get Ahead of Your Competition during COVID-19

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many brands cut down advertising budgets and started to hoard cash to brace for the storm. As an ad testing company, I expected a huge hit to Spot Trender’s business. Surprisingly, we saw an uptick in research inquiries within the past month from brands looking to stay top-of-mind and gain market share during and after the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis.

Out of curiosity, I reached out to the advertising executives from these brands to understand why they’re testing more ads now, and what’s working for their brands. Through these conversations, I felt a lot more optimistic and was able to build a much better marketing strategy than my original “hoard cash and wait it out” plan. Below are the top immediately useful ideas/insights I learned from them so far, I hope they’re useful for you too.

As your competitors retreat, move forward and capture the market

According to a World Federation of Advertisers survey, 81% of large advertisers are deferring ads. All these canceled campaigns mean that ads are much cheaper to buy right now. A client gleefully told me last week that her Facebook CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) is 1/3 of the typical cost. Another – a seasoned automotive advertising executive who led his company through 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession, is negotiating to have 50-70% off advertising cost for the rest of the year. Advertising now is not only cheaper, but it also keeps their brands top-of-mind and helps them stand out from the competition during the crisis. Ultimately, they’ll make more money when the economy picks up post-pandemic.

Do more with less: “Retrofit” existing ads

With shelter-in-place orders, it’s difficult to make new video ads. Many planned TV campaigns that tested extremely well were rendered completely irrelevant because of Coronavirus/Social Distancing. Instead of pausing everything, you can creatively adapt to the new context. Two weeks ago, we tested almost two identical TV ads side-by-side. One was a planned spot for the campaign, the other has the tagline adapted for the COVID-19 context. Originally, we thought the results would be similar since they’re practically the same. They were not. The planned spot, which performed extremely well when tested 4 months ago, offended about 30% of participants. The new tagline spot offended 4% (practically not offensive at all), while performed exceptionally well with Brand Opinion (they liked the brand a lot more after seeing the video). The takeaway here is: With some creativity, you can retrofit your planned or old ads. You’ll be a hero at your company. You save money for your company that would be lost if the whole campaign was scrapped, while proactively helping your brand win hearts and minds in times of crisis.

Lightning-fast campaigns: Focus on Search and Social

With shelter-in-place orders, we have a rather captive audience on these channels. For instance, you can quickly make a series of Instagram posts to increase brand opinion. It can be as simple as a stock photo with a message relating to your brand. We tested quite a few of these campaigns since the outbreak. The high-performing ones tend to be about kindness, community, and connectedness – like saying hi to neighbors, getting groceries for a friend without a car. Besides being fast, cheap, and particularly effective when everyone is staying home and connecting on social media – creating these campaigns can keep your marketing team employed, and feeling like they’re an essential part of the company.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered our fight or flight response (and the need to hoard toilet papers for some.) Like many of you, I was fearful when the crash happened. However, the more I talk to seasoned executives and mentors, the more I hear this word: Opportunity. We can’t control this pandemic, but as executives, we can take action to set your business up for success, to bring back our way of life as much as possible when the economy is ready to restart.

I’d love to hear from you! What kind of challenges are you facing right now? What works for you? How can I help? Drop me a comment below. We’re in this together!

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