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Is your brand a Caring Nurturer, a Wave Surfer or a Clever Hacker?

OSN's CMO Sonia Lekhal looks at the trends she and her team are seeing emerge from lockdown

By Sonia Lekhal, chief marketing officer, OSN

Sonia Lekhal, chief marketing officer, OSN

With most countries across the globe practicing “social distancing” for the past three weeks or more, we are starting to get a clearer picture of what the “new normal” could look like when it comes to consumers’ behaviour. Suddenly the world seems to have rediscovered the basics: cooking at home – apparently even making their own bread; chatting – I mean Zooming – with friends and families; picking up gardening; nailing these long overdue DIY projects; studying for an online course or watching a good movie with the family. This mandated #stayhome initiative has driven an unprecedented increase in screen time – in particular TV, both linear and streaming. At OSN we have seen an increase of close to 50 per centin TV watch time (last week of March vs 3 weeks prior) and an exponential growth in usage of our streaming service.

As consumers adjust to their new routines, having access to multiple streaming subscriptions seems like a great idea. However, given the uncertainty of how long we may need to be self-isolating, increased financial pressure on most people will dictate what people see as priority spending. This will cause even more competition between streaming providers as they strive to offer the very best content to existing and prospective customers, so having access to a streaming service that appeals to the whole household will become even more important in retaining audiences over the longer term.

Brands are also adapting in their own way to these profound changes, and I can see three winning profiles emerging: the Caring Nurturers, the Wave Surfers, and the Clever Hackers.

In the Middle East even more than anywhere else, hospitality, retail, leisure and travel verticals have unfortunately been brought to a standstill. These businesses have painfully been forced to put their operations, and therefore their advertising, on hold. However, some of them, the Caring Nurturers, are in it for the long run and invest in their brand for when the crisis is over. With a beautiful ad production, a message of hope and a promise of “flying back to the skies and flying you better than ever”, Emirates wins hearts and builds brand love that money can’t buy. Truth be said, the Caring Nurturers such as Emirates, Anantara, Dubai Tourism or Abu Dhabi Tourism might not be quite spending the advertising dollars they used to, but they create branded content and want to remain top of mind.

The Wave Surfers seem to have it easy. Suddenly this whole new pocket of demand is more than they could wish for. Online retailers, food companies, delivery providers, online education services, communication providers, online fitness classes and digital entertainment platforms are scaling their supply chain as fast as they can to ride the wave. When it comes to entertainment, even the Hollywood studios have reviewed their oh-so-sacred distribution windowing, collapsing theatrical windows or fast-tracking pay-per-view to bring Trolls sequels or Frozen 2 to streaming services. For the Wave Surfers, it is all about scaling fast and doubling down on advertising.

The Clever Hackers are the ones who have taken control of their destiny and decided to hack their way through the crisis: WIT – Whatever it takes! Majid Al Futaim launches overnight a “store to door” service for 17 of their fashion retail brands. It might not be the most tech-driven solution, but it is probably more digital transformation achieved in two weeks than all of the grand strategic projects put together in the past five years. Home-grown fitness brand Circuit Factory goes beyond the flurry of free online workouts and puts together a full fledge online booking system to deliver coached classes via Zoom. And Five Hotels advertise their hotel rooms as luxurious confinement pads with private pool for a decent monthly rent. The Clever Hackers are advertising to stay in the game, serve their customers in a different way, and generate any incremental revenue that will go towards covering their fixed costs.

Whether they are Caring Nurturers, Wave Surfers or Clever Hackers, marketers have to navigate a fast-changing landscape when it comes to advertising. With out-of-home and events progressively brought to time out, advertising money is flowing onto screens, both TV and digital. Media agencies are on the front line of these changes in spend and while there are positive changes such as increased spending in digital, broadcast and radio, the reality is that they are constantly re-assessing the situation with no real prediction of the longer term effects. Based on some parts of Asia returning to normality after successfully slowing down the spread of the virus, it would lead us to believe things could still get worse in countries trying to battle the spread, before they get better, meaning we will still see further redistribution of advertising budgets across the coming weeks. If we continue to see increased time spent at home, this could be very positive for broadcast and radio platforms, which have faced their own challenges more recently.

With Ramadan beginning, traditionally a time when TV consumption and ad spend spike, marketers in the region are scratching their heads to anticipate how the now well-established viewership patterns of the past few years will be affected by the drastic changes in the surrounding environment, and where they should direct their advertising spend. It may be the case that brands’ existing Ramadan budgets are spread out over this longer period to capitalise on people’s increased time spent at home rather than just reaching people over the four-week period. Interestingly, consumers might have already switched to a Ramadan-like watching behaviour. At OSN, we have noticed, as most would expect, an increased audience for news and kids channels, but the sharpest increase in watch time and viewership is observed on late night and early morning programmes.