Counting the missed opportunities in marketing
Brand owners should not go by COVID-19 marketing templates for anything they do in the near future. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Like a few grey times in the past, the advertising industry is faced with budget cuts, caution... and to some extent fear.

In their article “This is how COVID-19 is affecting the advertising industry”, Cathi Li and Stefan Hall of World Economic Forum said: “Pre-coronavirus, the ad market was forecast to grow to $865 billion by 2024. Coronavirus has forced a rethink.”

Advertising plans that involved out-of-home channels, cinema, print, etc. dropped drastically as lockdown measures were introduced. In this climate, Google’s Peter Oliveira recommends that advertisers review performance planner tools every week to get a sense of the change on the landscape.

Pre-COVID-19, there were numerous brands that were online but without the objective to increase sales and build loyalty. During the pandemic, many brands recognized the need for a functional online presence and turned to video content to engage.

According to a survey commissioned by Kearney Middle East, “Around 79 per cent of consumers in the UAE and 95 per cent in Saudi Arabia are now spending more online amidst COVID-19 outbreak. Forty-eight per cent in the UAE and 69 per cent in Saudi Arabia indicated they would maintain current shopping habits after the pandemic.”

The never-onliners are coming

During the lockdown and the gradual return to a new normal, consumer goods and lifestyle brands in particular are addressing their online visibility and engagement plans. The blanket excuse of many small to medium size brand owners used to be that their target audiences are not on YouTube and that creating content for online channels was expensive.

So, while global stats indicate a turbulence for the advertising industry, a new pool of never-have-I-spent-online brands have sudden ad requirements.

A client that is happy to give creative freedom is an ad maker’s dream come true. However, many brands investing in video or other online ads for the first time want to follow what competing or bigger brands are doing.

Joe Martinez, Director of Client Strategy at Clix Marketing, says that when you advertise, “Don’t sound like a used car salesman; be your customers’ partner in solving a problem.”

Keeping digital fatigue at bay

It is useful to understand what is trending across various digital channels - but banana bread and dalgona coffee should not be set in stone for new creative content. There are clients who demand content similar to ads that was relevant during the complete lockdown phase. According to Sadie Thoma, Google’s Director of Creative Partnerships, creative content should follow three essential themes - authenticity, connection, and empowerment.

Creative directors often face digital fatigue, especially during a time when meetings are taking place via video calls. To engage one’s creative quotient and stay relevant, filmmakers have to practice a reasonable balance between screen detox and regularly observing content by other brands in the product category their clients are in. Inspiration does not have to be limited to what other brands within a product vertical do - it can also be what no one else does.

A creative currency is key when crafting content for a landscape where consumers have the option to pay to stop seeing ads or just skip it.

When creative directors have to submit multiple ideas for similar products in a market where competition is high and opportunities few, it is safe for professionals to follow a working template. The combination of a pandemic and struggling budgets is a cul-de-sac for an ad maker.

Creative professionals may feel the darkness, but for the true optimists there is light to look forward to and bounce back. The pandemic offers an opportunity in disguise to explore and take some calculated creative risks. Put forward those fresh ideas.

If the client vehemently refuses, it is a “no”. But just imagine, what if it works?

- Harish Menon is a creative director.