As we are all adjusting to the immediate impact of the Coronavirus outbreak and current lockdown, there is a huge amount of speculation about the longer-term implications for both business in general and the advertising industry in particular.
Surveys are conducted in a bid to predict how the pandemic is likely to change our future behaviour. Whilst Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer (published in AdWeek at the end of March) provided valuable insights, the fast-moving nature of the pandemic means that data can feel instantly outdated as consumer attitudes and behaviours change with every evolving phase.
Without a clear picture, views on what to expect diverge widely. From Marketing Week’s Mark Ritson predicting that behaviours are essentially likely to revert back to normal, to the Advertising Association’s Stephen Woodford, expecting profound long-term change. Within the online debate, many seem to agree with John Naughton of the Guardian, who goes even further, categorically stating that there’s no going back to normality.
So what is the impact on the world of advertising? There is no doubt that we’re seeing a strong movement of unity particularly focused on key worker support. The current strength of public opinion is setting the tone for brand engagement. Orlando Wood suggested in a recent Campaign article that one likely outcome is a lasting shift from left-brained goal-focused advertising to more right-brained inspired empathetic and emotive advertising. In the context of this global tragedy this assumption is fairly unsurprising.
That said, the lockdown implications may have a more surprising effect on the balance of power amongst brands. The social distancing restrictions have led to a sea change in how we all operate and what we can practically produce. Even the largest brands such as Nike, Burger King and Apple are relying on existing, home-produced or user-curated content, removing some of the traditional competitive advantages of substantial production budgets. Audiences are embracing this reactive content in a way not previously experienced and have turned low production value content into a powerful conduit to convey a brand’s corporate social values.
This is having an unexpected levelling effect on the advertising playing field, where budget dominance is no longer reigning supreme. These market conditions may, therefore, represent an unprecedented opportunity for smaller brands and agencies to secure a greater share of voice.
In the current environment, the power lies with those adept at reading the market, who can adopt an agile approach and channel this into great creativity. With the future remaining uncertain, it’s hard to speculate as to whether this is likely to have an impact beyond the immediate short term. However, at this particular moment in time, the current disruption appears to be paving the way for greater brand equality, where success more overtly depends on the quality of insight and creative ideas.