By Manaswita Singh, executive director, Insights division, Kantar UAE
The scale of COVID-19 already dwarfs the 2008 financial crisis, SARS, MERS and Ebola pandemics in recent memory.Self-isolation has put a pause to many things and made us re-evaluate our relationships and priorities.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) officially declared that the world has entered a recession and it is abundantly clear that the GDP for most nations will take a beating, along with industrial output and overall production. Financial and economic uncertainty are expected to massively erode consumer spending. In such a scenario, most companies are fearful that there will be significant impact on their revenues and cash flows.
That’s why the first instinct for brands is to go silent, buckle down and wait for the crisis to pass. But Kantar data suggests that this approach tends to backfire, as brands that do go dark for long tend to lose momentum and see a decline in brand health. This issue is further amplified for larger, well-established brands.
What marketers need to keep in mind is that strong brands come out of crises faster. Therefore, it is imperative they continue investing in a brand’s health to ensure it has a good chance of recovery post-crisis.
What do consumers want from brands currently?
In times of crisis, people welcome the comfort of buying familiar, trusted brands. So, brands remain important as many consumers are purchasing the same brand as always, but now, we’re paying more attention to the origin of products and supporting local where we can.
Consumers also remain open to communication and expect brands to help us navigate the tensions in our disrupted lives, both by talking about how they could be helpful in the new, everyday life and in reducing anxiety and understanding our concerns.
We have seen that salience is a big driver of brand choice at this time, when consumers are moving to more online shopping and not browsing as much for alternatives as they would in a traditional store, it is important that brands stay on top of their minds.
Thus, if you’re wondering if you should be advertising right now, the answer is yes, you should. If, on the other hand, you’re considering stopping your media spend for some time, the advice is not to do so for more than six months
Which touchpoints should I focus on?Go for digital… but don’t forget the TV
Our findings from both KSA and UAE reflect that 60% to 70% of consumers are watching more news on TV, as people feel the need to be continually informed about the evolution of the situation. Their online content consumption has also increased, both on YouTube and streaming platforms like Netflix, Shahid and Amazon.
What type of content should I be airing/publishing?
As per the Kantar COVID-19 Barometer study: in KSA, half of consumers are looking for a positive perspective to help them sail through these difficult times, with 56% of consumers feeling that brands should not exploit the situation to promote themselves.
This positive perspective can come in many forms, from providing emotional support to offering convenience and the right advice.
There are many categories that can make people’s lives easier during the crisis, which is why they may increase spend in these categories in the short term. These include supermarkets, food delivery services and home entertainment providers. Content from these brands should put people ahead of profit and demonstrate how the products and services can help people adjust to the new way of living.
For example, Ikea UAE is offering a heavy discount on study desks and chairs, as more and more people turn to work or study from home. Lulu also offers a range of essentials for free delivery throughout UAE, while Disney+ is releasing Frozen 2 earlier than initially scheduled to entertain the kids at home – a step that has received wide social appreciation from parents. Amazon is also making its audio books available for free for consumers in this time of change.
Creatively, it would be wise to ensure that content doesn’t show behaviour that’s ‘not appropriate’ in the current context or contrary to local health authority advice and government regulations around social distancing, as that would cause panic.
While in most markets it isn’t business as usual, delivering advertising that suggests a degree of normality can help prevent panic and impact on mental health that’s expected as a result of uncertainty and self-isolation. Many also say that in a constant news cycle about Coronavirus, advertising provides a sense of normality, or even distraction and escape. Thus, it is important to have the right balance between topical vs brand content.