How nimble, relevant advertising can save brands during times of crisis

By Clare O’Neil, Commercial Director: Discovery Inc, Africa

The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it. Television – and TV advertising – is no exception. The economic downturn the pandemic has caused all over the world will undoubtedly impact on ad spend: Ampere Analysis Insights, for example, forecast that TV spend will fall by 12 percent globally in 2020.

Surprising? No. It’s not a shock that many brands have decided to place planned ad campaigns on hold: the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) noted that four out of five multinationals have done so, as the negative economic impact of the pandemic on pay-TV and TV advertising is expected to last at least two years.

But is this decision by brands to cut ad spend necessary, or wise? Also no. In fact, this is a critical time that brands must use to continue communicating and engaging meaningfully with their customers and audiences. The WFA revealed that just as many multinational companies – four out of five – are developing new marketing messages relevant to the crisis to keep connected with their customers.

We can use the 2008 financial crash as a yardstick to demonstrate the value of continuing ad spend during times of crisis. There are demonstrable benefits that we can see that come from spending through a downturn as consumers prove to be more open to positive brand messages.

Big global companies like Nestle, Unilever and L’Oréal increased ad investment following the crash, and it helped them weather the storm. In an environment where many people worldwide stockpiled food and drink, an ongoing investment in ad spend could boost sales income and help brands survive what is undoubtedly a challenging and uncertain time.

Millward Brown research showed that 60 percent of brands that stopped spending on communications for six or more months because of a crisis suffered in terms of both brand image and brand usage. It also illustrated a higher risk of failure when brands began investing in ad spend again.

This means that cutting budgets in an economically constrained landscape only bolsters the bottom line in the short-term; long-term, it damages the brand’s share of market and share of voice. Brands need to maintain their momentum to derive the true value of TV ad spend.

An opportunity for SA brands to build brand equity through relevant and meaningful advertising

What exactly does this mean in a South African context, though? South African audiences – like their global counterparts – turn to trusted media during times of crisis, and this has largely meant switching to news channels more often, to keep up to date with developments surrounding the pandemic.

But an extended period of lockdown has also meant that the majority of viewers are consuming media at home and that there has been steep growth in TV viewing, particularly daytime viewing. For instance, overall, viewing time on our own channels – TLC, Discovery, Discovery Family, Real Time, Investigative Discovery (ID), Travel, HGTV and Food Network – has increased by 1.1 percent, while total pay-TV consumption has risen by 3.2 percent in ratings and 23.7 percent in viewers since the lockdown started.

These channels have increased their share of audience 13 percent overall, driven predominantly by Discovery Family’s 50 percent increase in share of audience. And the 90 days franchise has led the way in highest viewers during lockdown, with a whopping 386,365 viewers for 90 day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days on TLC.

What these figures show is a significant opportunity for brands to build brand equity through continued investment in ad spend during the crisis. But this requires careful and considered positioning and messaging – particularly in terms of demonstrating how they are responding to the pandemic and helping their customers and broader society. This means advertising that is meaningful, relevant, positive and inspiring.

And in turn, partnerships that are highly responsive. Our ad-sales house, ViacomCBS (selling across Discovery Channel, TLC, Discovery Family, Discovery ID and RealTime), for instance has shown that collaboration and fluidity in times like these are more than a value-add; they have managed to turn-around new, relevant and engaging packages for our partners, that has undoubtedly reflected on their brands as being in touch with the times, and positioning these partners as future-forward by offering valuable content – now – through the lens of our new normal.

This opportunity to engage viewers in a different way – showing that we’re heeding this transition into the new world together, and that these brands are responsive, will help futureproof business. We are seeing multiple South African brands doing this extremely well, including financial services providers like Momentum, Absa, Liberty and Old Mutual, mobile network providers like Vodacom and MTN, retailers like Pick n Pay and Makro, as well as SA Tourism, among others. These brands are displaying positivity, warmth and value, with messages relevant to the coronavirus pandemic – which are standing them in good stead.

Ultimately, brands that are flexible, nimble and adaptable and that continue to invest in ad spend during the current pandemic – with the right messaging in place – will reap the benefits and emerge from the crisis with greater brand equity and stronger customer relationships.